Thielen Donated to Hawaii GOP Candidates

Katherine Poythress

Laura Thielen is fighting for her identity as a Democrat. But campaign contributions to both Republicans on the ticket for governor in 2010 could undermine her claim.

A Civil Beat review of campaign finance records from late 2006 through the current election cycle show Thielen gave money to Duke Aiona and Lynn Finnegan, two top Republicans.

The records show no contributions to Democratic candidates in that period.

Thielen has said publicly, and repeatedly, that she is indeed a Democrat, though she only joined the Democratic Party of Hawaii this year.

We'll know soon enough whether the party will be able to keep her off the 2012 Democratic ballot. A possible court challenge is under consideration.

But the news that she has contributed to Republican candidates is likely to rankle the rank and file.

Thielen gave $300 to Friends of Duke Aiona in 2007 when James "Duke" Aiona was early in his second term as lieutenant governor.

The contribution was made June 12 that year, just six weeks before Thielen was appointed interim director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources by Aiona's boss, then-Gov. Linda Lingle.

Thielen said she was told her contribution was to help him retire his campaign debt.

But Aiona had faced no challenger in his 2006 re-election, when a landslide vote returned Aiona and Lingle to office.

Friends of Duke Aiona, Aiona's campaign committee, reported having $142,000 in cash on hand by Dec. 31 of that year. That total was after renting Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park for a cool $48,500, perhaps to celebrate his victory.

Aiona then raised $586,000 in the first half of 2007 — including Thielen's $300 — and spent $110,000, leaving him with $617,500 cash on hand as of July 1, 2007. He raised another $287,000 in the second half of 2007 and spent $191,500, leaving him with a hefty $713,000.

In short, Aiona had no campaign debt to retire, though he was widely expected to run for governor in 2010.

In September 2010, while Thielen was still DLNR director, she gave $500 to Lynn Finnegan, the eventual runaway winner in the GOP lieutenant governor race and Aiona's running mate that November.

The Republicans were crushed in the general election by Neil Abercrombie and Brian Schatz.

Thielen's also contributed on the federal level and again only to a Republican.

According to the Federal Election Commission, Thielen gave $2,100 to her mother, Cynthia Thielen, when Cynthia ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006 against incumbent Daniel Akaka.

Asked about the contributions, Laura Thielen sent Civil Beat a statement via email:

During my time as a Lingle cabinet member I also attended fundraisers for democratic candidates and donated to a democratic candidate's campaign for reelection. I have a history of campaigning for and donating to other democratic candidates at other times in my life.

In 2006, six weeks before the General Election, my mother was appointed to step into the race for US Senate when Jerry Coffee became ill. I have always supported my mother, became her campaign manager for that whirlwind race, and was grateful to the Hawaii Republican Party for their support of her. When I was approached the following spring and asked to help retire Duke Aiona's 2006 campaign debt, I chipped in.

The Democratic Party of Hawaii has many members who were previously members of the Republican Party, including ones who were elected republican officials who converted to democrats while in office. The only difference in my case is that I've never been a member of the Republican Party and always identified myself out as a democrat.

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