Is Brian Schatz Already Winning Hawaii's Invisible Primary?
by Scott Bland, April 25, 2013 National Journal (excerpts)
...A National Journal analysis of Schatz’s campaign finance records from the last three months shows that the senator garnered support from dozens of influential Hawaiian donors, including over a quarter-million dollars from a key group that helped finance Hanabusa’s most recent major campaign.
According to the Federal Election Commission filings, Schatz received first-quarter donations from at least 96 individuals who also gave to Hanabusa in 2009 or 2010, when they provided a major infusion of cash to Hanabusa’s last competitive campaign. Schatz has already raised $285,000 from that group, a powerful collection of attorneys, corporate executives, and other regular Hawaii Democratic donors....
It surpasses the $225,000 Hanabusa raised from those common donors in a full election cycle three years ago, when she was first locked in a special election with Democrat Ed Case and Republican Charles Djou and then faced Djou one-on-one in the fall -- though Hanabusa could certainly draw more money from the same people for a statewide race. However, she only drew about $36,000 from those donors in early 2013.
Overall, those “common donors” comprised less than 8 percent of Hanabusa’s big-donor base but provided almost 16 percent of her itemized individual contributions in 2009 and 2010. This year, they comprised about 15 percent of Schatz’s first set of itemized donors but gave him 30 percent of his total big-dollar haul.
Twenty-three of those “common donors” donated to Hanabusa, giving her the $36,000 mentioned above, while also cutting Schatz checks in the first three months of 2013. Schatz collected $69,000 from them. Only one of those 23 gave more to Hanabusa than to Schatz....
Hawaii’s big-dollar donor crowd is relatively small and would naturally open its wallets for a new senator before primary battle lines were drawn. But Schatz’s camp argues that his early fundraising locked down a primary seal of approval and a permanent advantage among the state’s major donors.
In an email, a Schatz adviser wrote that the senator “effectively coalesced big-dollar support behind him, and this trend will only grow as we move into (the second fundraising quarter) and beyond.” He noted that most of the common contributors gave more to Schatz than to Hanabusa.
“Our donor base is motivated,” the Schatz adviser continued....
A source close to Hanabusa’s campaign said ... donors used their dollars to try and exert leverage on Hanabusa’s career move over the last few months.
“A number of people and organizations in Hawaii were strongly encouraging her to run for governor,” the Hanabusa campaign source said. “They were using a little leverage, giving money to Schatz, to push her toward Abercrombie....
...One first-quarter donor to both Schatz and Hanabusa, retired attorney Jeffrey Watanabe, warned that donors’ eventual decisions may not be black and white. Watanabe was a close ally and one-time employee of Inouye’s who helped deliver the senator’s deathbed letter to Abercrombie, requesting that he appoint Hanabusa, in December. But he’s also opened his home for Schatz fundraisers multiple times. Speaking the day before news of Hanabusa’s decision broke, he said he hoped not to have to choose between the two and suggested he and others might not really have to.
“Like Colleen, a lot of us are sitting on the edge trying to figure out where people are going,” Watanabe said in a Monday interview. “What happens in Hawaii is interesting, it’s a relational environment as opposed to a transactional one,” Watanabe continued. “You take the attitude of, you support your friends, and when friends oppose one another, that’s their problem, not yours. So people give to both.”
Also before Hanabusa’s decision came out, state lobbyist John Radcliffe, a donor to both candidates in the past but only to Schatz so far this year, wrote in an email that early donations showed that “many politically active people are lining up in support of Senator Schatz, Governor Abercrombie, and Congresswomen Hanabusa and Gabbard to remain in their current offices.”
Another longtime Hawaii Democratic donor, who wished to remain anonymous to share his thoughts freely, also sounded unsure about what would happen after Hanabusa’s decision to run for Senate. “To a certain extent I’m disappointed because while I was a supporter of Sen. Inouye, now that the decision has been made to have Brian Schatz be our senator, it’s not a choice I think was unreasonable or bad for Hawaii,” said the donor, who worried about the state losing Schatz’s nascent seniority.
“I think most people will be surprised by her decision” and it will take some time for the donor community to sort things out, the donor continued.
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