ANALYSIS: Campaign Spending – Food & Beverage Edition

December 13, 2013, 4:49 PM HST
* Updated December 15, 2:12 PM
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We may not be kids, but we definitely found a candy store.

Ever since discovering the Hawai`i Campaign Spending Commission’s new web portal for tracking the financial activities of island politicians, our news team has been picking through spending and fundraising data in preparation for our new analysis series, “Campaign Spending.”

Our first edition focuses on the diverse dining habits of Hawaii’s politicians.

We gathered data on candidate’s food and beverage expenditures, including everything from $100,000 fundraising galas to $10 coffee runs. As it turns out, our politicians have very divergent tastes and budgets.

Although the data we collected doesn’t reveal exactly what candidates consumed on a daily basis (who knows how Rep. Clift Tsuji stays so svelte), the information gathered does tell us how much they spent, and who did the cooking.


Here we profile the dining habits of the Big Island’s state senators during the 2010-2012 timeframe, before wrapping up our analysis by focusing on mayor Billy Kenoi.


Candidates are listed in order of lowest-to-highest total expenditures.

Name: Sen. Russell Ruderman (D-Puna)

Dining Habits: Organic Shoestring

Sen. Ruderman's campaign ran a thoroughly shoestring food budget. Image courtesy Island Naturals.

Sen. Ruderman’s campaign ran a thoroughly shoestring food budget. Image courtesy Island Naturals.


The first-time state senator from Puna managed to spend only $1,214.23 in the most recent campaign cycle, amounting to just 3% of his total expenditures. Unsurprisingly, most of that ($885) was spent purchasing event-related food from Island Naturals, the organic retail business Ruderman owns and operates.

But Ruderman’s most impressive feat of low-budget campaigning occurred at his post-victory celebration. Its sole expenditure? A $75 ham, purchased from Cost-U-Less.

Name: Sen. Josh Green (D-Kona)

Dining Habits: Carnivorous Maximus

Steak. It’s what the doctor ordered.

Well known for being a full-time physician, Green’s campaign skewed heavily toward meat-focused fare when choosing how to spend $3,555.32 on food and beverages.

Sen. Josh Green. Courtesy photo.

Sen. Josh Green. Courtesy photo.

Rather than holding large fundraising galas, the campaign’s relatively modest F&B expenditures, which comprised roughly 4% of Green’s total budget, were used for occasional staff meetings at restaurants like Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Outback Steakhouse, and Morton’s.

Cholesterol-laden establishments, to be sure. But we shouldn’t assume Dr. Green and his staff were just wolfing down T-bones.

For instance, the $303.53 tab Green’s campaign generated at Ruth’s Chris last February could (conceivably) have been spent entirely on salads. After all, we hear they make a mean caesar.

Name: Malama Solomon (D-Hamakua/Kohala)

Dining Habits: Diverse

Malama Solomon’s campaign spent around $8,958 on F&B activities in 2010-2012, comprising 18% of total campaign expenditures.

Apart from fundraising events, Sen. Solomon's campaign frequented establishment's like "Tex Drive In" to feed volunteers. Image courtesy.

Apart from fundraising events, Sen. Solomon’s campaign frequented establishment’s like “Tex Drive In” to feed volunteers. Image courtesy.

Sen. Solomon spread her event-based fundraising out over multiple dates and venues, with each event costing less than $2,000. The fundraisers were held at a diverse group of establishments including the Mandalay on Oahu, the Parker Ranch Broiler and “Earl’s” on the Big Island.

Outside of those events, much of Solomon’s remaining food budget was spent feeding volunteers at local establishments like Zippy’s and Tex Drive-In.

Name: Gil Kahele (D-Hilo)

Dining Habits: Mixes it Up, With a Dash of Alcohol

Ringing up the highest tab among Big Island state senators  was Sen. Gil Kahele’s campaign, which managed to spend more on food and beverages than all the other Big Island senators combined. In total, the campaign spent $22,224 on F&B activities, which amounted to 15% of their total expenditures.

Kahele held fundraisers at Oahu venues such as the Plaza Club ($3,293) and the Pacific Club ($4,440.67). But back on the Big Island, Kahele’s fundraising events were decidedly more home-spun, with thousands of dollars spent on food from establishments like Kawamoto Vegetable Store (a bento shop) and wholesaler/fish market “Suisan.”

Of all the food and beverage expenditures we researched, Sen. Kahele's "no host" bars fascinated us the most. Public domain image.

Of all the food and beverage expenditures we researched, Sen. Kahele’s “no host” bars fascinated us the most. Public domain image.

But there were two expenditures in particular that we couldn’t resist mentioning. The first is a $725.25 no-host beverage charge at the Pacific Club on Oahu in 2011. It was the only charge of its kind that we could locate among the senate candidates.

That no-host service occurred at the same venue (and on the same day) as Kahele’s catered fundraising event at the Pacific Club, meaning people weren’t necessarily there to just knock back drinks.

That may have instead happened at an event at the Mandalay in January of 2013, where Kahele’s campaign spent $900 on a no-host bar and parking fees, one of only two F&B expenditures that year.


Name: William “Billy” Kenoi

Dining Habits: Plenty Plenty Local Grinds

Making up 16% of his overall campaign budget, mayor Billy Kenoi managed to spend $113,574.57 on food and beverages during his recent campaign against former mayor Harry Kim.

Mayor Kenoi's food and beverage budget was drastically higher than his opponent's in the most recent election.

Mayor Kenoi’s food and beverage budget was drastically higher than his opponent’s in the most recent election.

So where did Kenoi use all that money? As it turns out, nearly all of his F&B spending occurred right here on the Big Island, paying for everything from meals at mom and pop stores to fundraisers at West Hawai`i resorts.

But most interesting is the fact that Kenoi managed to out-spend his opponent on food exactly 113,574.57 times over.

That’s because despite coming close to beating Kenoi in the recent election (winning 48% of the vote to Kenoi’s 50%) former mayor Harry Kim didn’t spend a single cent of campaign funds on food and beverages.

Which means Kim may have actually managed to generate the lowest number of “calories per vote” in recent election history.

Talk about a lean budget.

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