HONOLULU — Gubernatorial campaign rivals Vicky Cayetano and U.S. Sen. Kai Kahele joined forces in a highly unusual press conference Wednesday to question frontrunner Lt. Gov. Josh Green’s financial dealings and the nature of his Green Health International limited liability corporation.
“Like the former first lady, I have fundamental concerns with the financial disclosures of the lieutenant governor that I have now raised twice and statewide debates and have not received, just like many of you know, answers from the lieutenant governor on those questions,” Kahele said. “These concerns are founded in fact. They’re publicly available information and represent a pattern of misrepresentation, dishonesty and unethical behavior.”
Kahele and Cayetano, who both trail Green in polling, fundraising and endorsements, said they agreed to appear together, just weeks before the primary election, because they want Green to respond to concerns that were raised years ago but not substantively reported on by local media or addressed to their satisfaction by Green himself.
Green dismissed the spectacle as an attempt by his competitors to make up ground in their campaigns by attacking him personally.
"When campaigns get desperate, sometimes they start attacking instead of talking about the issues that really matter to people," Green said in a statement released Wednesday evening. "It's always disappointing, and in Hawaii it's not who we are, but my campaign has been positive from the very beginning and will stay positive to the end, and I will keep talking about building affordable housing, fighting homelessness, and lowering the cost of living, and I will do the best I can to unite us and lead Hawaii forward to a better, stronger future.”
At Wednesday's press conference, Cayetano recited a litany of financial and political situations Green was involved in prior to his current run at the governor’s seat.
“Why, in his run for lieutenant governor, did Josh Green falsely report a local address from eight mainland donors?” Cayetano asked, barely a minute into her introductory remarks. “Well, he did this in order to keep the allowable contributions from out of state within the cap. He was investigated by the campaign spending commission, found guilty and fined for it. When he was senator, he used his state letterhead to pressure then managing director of the City and County of Honolulu Doug Chin to settle a billing dispute from a pharmaceutical company, only to then receive a campaign contribution from that same company.
“Then, of course, he was also fined for failing to report his ownership of a condominium along with six years of rental income,” she continued. “Then on top of everything else, after winning his election for lieutenant governor, he hires a lobbyist from the carpenters union, which gave him over a million dollars in that race in that campaign, and he installs her as chief of staff. That is the gatekeeper for that office. You see all these patterns? Then, on top of everything else during the pandemic, when so many people are suffering from individuals to businesses … while he’s lieutenant governor, his business sees a significant increase. Where did this money come from? This is what we keep asking.”
Kahele focused much of his comments on Green Health International and its listed Agent J.P. Schmidt, the former state insurance commissioner and current principal for Abaris Global, a regulatory and corporate governance consulting business. Schmidt is also listed as a principal agent for another business registered to Green’s address and who Green hired to serve as a senior policy adviser when he became lieutenant governor.
The candidates stopped short of lodging specific, actionable allegations of unethical or illegal acts by Green relative to his sources of income, but laid the groundwork for such inferences via their questions.
Kahele called on Green to disclose the sources and amounts of income for GHI, as well as the Hawaii Independent Physicians Association and Watkins Medical Group.
Kahele and Cayetano both said their questions about Green stem from their independent personal research and were not the product of contracted opposition research.
“Mrs. Cayetano and I have had our differences on this campaign, sure,” Kahele said. “I never thought I’d be sitting here in her headquarters 18 days before the Aug. 13 primary, but we have a commitment to the people of Hawaii no matter the outcome of this election. We have accountability and we have honesty and we have transparency in the 2022 election. And so we have concerns of the lieutenant governor and we’re asking for him to release this information.”
With Cayetano and Kahele having broached the matter of Green's finances and business affairs, media present at the event raised questions about the candidates' own dealings, including Kahele's real estate properties in Tennessee and the period of time between when Cayetano announced her intention to run and when she stepped down as president and CEO of United Laundry Services.
As Green himself noted in an earlier debate, Kahele owns rental properties in Tennessee and has been involved in numerous eviction actions against tenants. Court records identify Kahele as the plaintiff in 28 separate cases between 2009 and 2015.
"Sure, I own rental properties in Tennessee," Kahele said. "Tenants had issues paying their rent. I give them as many opportunities as possible. (The properties) are managed by mainland company that manages them in Tennessee and they had to process evictions for tenants, no different than a tenant here that fails to pay their rent over a period of time. You have to go through a legal process to recoup your property and prepare it for a new rental."
In response to questions about her income from United Laundry, Cayetano acknowledged that after announcing her candidacy she continued to lead the company until another president could be hired. Cayetano declared in Aug. 2021 and stepped down from United Laundry in Feb. 2022.
Kahele accused Green and his advisers of mischaracterizing his outside employment as part of a negative campaign strategy.
Michael Tsai covers local and state politics for Spectrum News Hawaii.