Maui County Council races are usually sleepy, low-contact affairs with lots of smiles and roadside sign-waving. But this year’s three-way race for the West Maui council seat is different. Elle Cochran, a slow-growth devotee and Save Honolua activist who ran for reelection unopposed in 2012, is now facing two challengers: Rick Nava and Ka’ala Buenconsejo. Of those two, Buenconsejo is the better funded, with a little more than $9,000 in his campaign coffers.
But he’s also benefitting from a massive infusion of cash from a Honolulu-based super PAC called Forward Progress. Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission records filed on July 30 show that Forward Progress is entirely funded by the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program, a separate political committee funded by the carpenters. This makes sense because Forward Progress is run by John White, who is also the executive director of Pacific Resource Partnerships (PRP), the controversial nonprofit organization that spent nearly a million in 2012 promoting Honolulu’s rail project. PRP also ran a series of nasty negative ads against anti-rail Honolulu mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano–ads that PRP apologized for after the election.
White did not return a phone call asking for comment by press time. But according to Forward Progress’ July 30 expenditure filings, the organization has so far spent nearly $15,000 on radio advertisement buys and $17,000 on a Maui County poll conducted by San Francisco-based Tulchin Research. The organization’s July 30 unpaid expenditures filing shows they’ve also spent and a little more than $36,000 on mailers and postage–all in support of Buenconsejo–more than $68,000 total in spending.
“The carpenters union has never endorsed me,” Cochran told me today when informed of the above figures. She recalled her interview with them when she first ran for office. “Their big question was how do I feel about the conversion of hotels to timeshares,” she said. “I told them that I know it gives them a lot of jobs, but I lost my job because of timeshares. They downsized a lot of people when they converted to a timeshare. Ever since, I haven’t been asked back.”
Cochran further speculated that her lack of support for the proposed Olowalu Town, which build 1,500 units at Olowalu may also make her a target of the construction industry.
Cochran’s latest financial disclosure statement shows her campaign is currently running a $55,000 deficit.
Photo courtesy Elle Cochran campaign