A local businessman who favors Republicans in the deeply Democratic state has become the top donor to political candidates in the 2022 election.
Mike Rompel, the owner of Domino’s Pizza franchises in Hawaii, donated $52,000 mostly to right-wing candidates, making him the biggest contributor over the past two years, according to an analysis by Civil Beat. campaign finance data shows.
This includes in 2021 the maximum contribution of $6,000 to Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is now the Democratic nominee for governor. Butthe hat giveaway appears to be an anomaly in both timing and partisan tilt.
Three-quarters of Rompel’s donations have been in 2022, mostly to conservative candidates like Seaula Jr. Tupai, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, and Sen. Kurt Fevella, Hawaii’s only Republican senator.
These make Rompel the largest GOP donor by far, with his $22,000 in donations to Republican candidates more than doubling the $10,000 in donations from the next highest contributor.
Records show Rompel only started donating to political candidates in the summer of 2020, a change he attributes to witnessing community members help the most during the pandemic. .
Before, he says, “I never wanted to be involved in the political process, I just wanted to run my business.”
But he was already seeing team members at his pizzerias struggling to get by, not to mention struggling to open franchises as he did in the 1990s, he said.
Many Hawaii candidates campaign on affordability, Rompel said, so his task when donating is to find candidates he thinks can actually be successful.
Republicans often met those criteria for him, though Rompel said Green’s performance during the pandemic was impressive enough to merit a donation.
Other than that, part of his mental arithmetic has to do with bolstering underdog candidates, he said, and “tThe Republican Party happens to be an underdog in Hawaii.
As in the pizza business, he said, strong competition is important to ensure the best possible quality for consumers and voters.
It’s not an exact science, he says. Sometimes he just liked candidates after meeting them, even when that meant donating to multiple candidates in the same race — like when Democrat Sherry Menor-McNamara and Republican Seaula Tupai both ran to be the candidates. of their respective party for the office of lieutenant-governor. Rompel donated the maximum contribution of $6,000 to each of them. Tupai won his race; Menor-McNamara lost to Rep. Sylvia Luke.
“If I had spent time with seven candidates, I probably would have supported them all,” he said with a laugh.
Analysis of campaign finance records shows that while donations to Republicans still pale in comparison to Democrats, they are seeing a slight spike this year, a fact reflected by their higher turnout at the polls in this month’s primaries. .
“Republicans see hope for the future,” said Lynn Finnegan, president of the Republican Party of Hawaii.
Finnegan said she made fundraising a priority after becoming president last November, referring to Republicans’ clear need for resources if they are to mount viable campaigns against an entrenched Democratic party.
This year’s fundraiser, she said, demonstrates the party’s success in generating excitement at the grassroots level by finding new candidates who might not otherwise have considered running.
But beyond Rompel, a lot of of the biggest donors are household names in the world of Hawaiian political influence.
Blake Oshiro and Bruce Coppa of Capitol Consultants — a sought-after lobbying firm whose website lists clients including Pfizer, AT&T and Kamehameha Schools — each donated just under $45,000.
They gave near the limit to Green in his race for governor, as well as Luke, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, and Senator Jarrett Keohokalole and Senator Donovan Dela Cruz, who are Democratic candidates. to re-election.
Keohokalole is chairman of the Senate Health Committee and Dela Cruz chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Luke chaired the House Finance Committee.
Before becoming a lobbyist for Capitol Consultants, Oshiro served as a state representative for about a decade and later became Governor Neil Abercrombie’s deputy chief of staff. He explained that many of his donation choices came from the relationships he had established and that he sometimes donated to candidates who were running against each other.
“I’m friends with a lot of them,” he said.
And in the early days of the election season, he said, it’s hard to know who will end up running the best campaign, which has prompted him to sometimes donate to multiple candidates to help them continue their campaigns. operations.
Other major donors include Jennifer Sabas, who remained politically active after serving as Chief of Staff to the late US Senator Daniel Inouye. She is contributed about $28,000 so far this cycle.
Sabas gave $6,000 to Jill Tokuda, who won the Democratic nomination for Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district, continuing her longtime support of Tokuda.
She also gave Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi $4,000 after he took office in 2021, the legal maximum for his position.
Developer Everett Dowling gave a lot to Senators Lorraine Inouye and Luke, as well as Vicky Cayetano, whose gubernatorial campaign ended when she lost the primary race for the Democratic nomination.
Dowling, who lives in Maui, also gave the $2,000 legal limit to Maui County Council member Tasha Kama.
In total, Dowling has so far paid out approximately $36,000 to contestants in this cycle.
Dowling wasn’t the only developer wielding influence.
The Kobayashis, who have made their fortunes developing real estate, have directed some of their contributions to Honolulu City Council candidates, including two who are running against each other.
Bert A. Kobayashi Jr. donated $4,000 to Tyler Dos Santos-Tam and Traci Toguchi, who are vying for the Council District 6 seat and will both qualify for the general election. He also donated the legal limit to Councilman Calvin Say, Richard Bissen — a favorite in the Maui mayoral race — and Rep. Val Okimoto, who is running to represent District 8 on the Maui City Council. Honolulu. Council member Tommy Waters received $2,000 from Kobayashi.
Elder Bert A. Kobayashi focused on a similar subset of races, contributing thousands of dollars to Dos Santos-Tam, Say, Okimoto, and House Speaker Scott Saiki.
The Kobayashis did not respond to requests for comment.
Another major donor, Ronald Amemiya, the former state attorney general, gave about $31,000 to his son Keith Amemiya, the former Honolulu mayoral candidate who came third this year for the Democratic nomination. as lieutenant governor.