UPDATE: Civil Beat’s Denby Fawcett has taken up the sword over the Midweek Ad for Amemiya. So has the Hawaii Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, which is making a formal complaint against Oahu Publications. Deception by a candidate that can be bought with money by the campaign that has the most – during a political campaign that is this close – is just plain wrong.
Shortly after the pandemic shut down, trucks with the candy-colored Every1ne Hawaii logo began appearing throughout town. They were handing out masks.
The organization’s sudden appearance as a local power force and its quick rise from obscurity is a mystery. Well, let’s take a look at its activities and its network:
Recently, the organization sent out a questionnaire to all candidates for elected office with over 100 questions – mostly essay.
Some of them were silly – like “what’s your favorite plate lunch” or “what’s your favorite band,” designed to appeal to first-time-voter millennials. A series of multiple choice questions had optional essays, on education, environment, community, health and welfare, government/ civics and arts/ culture, with multiple yes/no and essay questions for each subject.
The clincher was the apparent threat to candidates that failed to respond: “We kindly ask that you participate in the survey (link and password provided below), so that we may match voters with similar beliefs and opinions with you...Please understand that we will indicate on the voting guide the candidates who choose not to participate or do not respond, and they will be excluded from the matching functionalities of the guide.”
Every1ne Hawaii’s website says it is a nonprofit collecting donations but it is unclear where the money really goes. It’s also unclear if they are really a non-profit. Civil Beat reporter Brittany Lyte, says it is a for-profit business.
The network of Every1one Hawaii become more unclear as the reader seeks to make a donation. An online donation to Every1one Hawaii connects the read to the aio Foundation. Keith’s wife, Bonnie is the CFO of the aio Foundation which is an arm of the aio media group, owned by Duane Kurisu. Aio’s website links to the Masks4Hawaii project which is sponsored by Every1one Hawaii.
Upsring, a local digital and data consultancy that specializes in collecting and analyzing data is another member of the aio family of companies.
If one digs into the aio family they will find the Kahauiki Village project. Which is an impressive low income housing project spearheaded by people like Duane Kurisu. The project website lists the Hawaii Community Foundation (HCF) as one of the “partners.” Keith Amemiya has stated publicly that he helped with this project as well.
The president of the HCF Board of Directors is Peter Ho (Bank of Hawaii), Keith Amemiya’s best friend from Punahou. Micah Kane is the CEO and President of HCF. They are both working on Keith’s campaign.
When you click on the Every1ne Hawaii “Change Initiatives” link it takes the reader to the Hawai’i Executive Collaborative page. The Hawai’i Executive Collaborative is the organization that holds the annual Hawaii Executive Conference. This event is for “Leaders” by invitation-only – that was started two years ago by the aio Foundation (Bonnie Amemiya) and featured Keith Amemiya as the keynote speaker in their first year. Keith and Micah Kane were the co-chairs of last year’s event.
There certainly seems to be an overlap between those who support Keith Amemiya, the aio family of companies and projects and those who are involved with Every1ne Hawaii.
Recently, many were shocked to see Keith Amemiya’s face on the cover of MidWeek. It only cost his campaign $76,000, according to campaign spending reports. His campaign PAID for it. Until you get to the bottom of the third page of coverage, however, you would never know. In small print, there it is: “This is a paid advertisement. Paid for by Amemiya for Mayor, P.O. Box 1777, Honolulu, HI 96806. This advertisement is published with the approval and authority of the candidate.” For the first time ever, MidWeek, run by the same organization that fired half its staff as a union bargaining chip to get people to retire and the rest to take furloughs – SOLD the front page.
The front page story is called “The Good Hanai Son”. Often, it sounds like Keith was an orphan growing up. He was certainly not. Amemiya is the son of former state Attorney General Ron Amemiya; and the cousin of Honolulu City Managing Director Roy Amemiya, Jr. He grew up with Bert Kobayashi, Jr., one of Hawaii’s long time and well-known attorney’s, as his hanai father.
Here is Kobayashi’s bio from his firm’s website: “Bert T. Kobayashi, Jr. is a Senior Partner of the law firm and one of its founding partners. Mr. Kobayashi is intimately involved with the governmental, political and business fabric of the State of Hawaii. Extensive and comprehensive contacts enable Mr. Kobayashi to effectively advise his clients in their business activities in the State of Hawaii. Mr. Kobayashi’s practice concentrates in the areas of commercial and construction litigation, consultation in development and construction, commercial and construction document drafting and consultation, administrative law, governmental procurement and contracts, antitrust and public utilities representation.”
Over the last few weeks, a brand new PAC Aloha Aina Oiaio, send out emails with claims that connect Keith Amemiya to the appointment of Kealoha as chief of police and claim he and his cousin, who make at least six figures each, purchased an affordable housing unit in Kakaako. Three local news sources defended Amemiya against these claims including, Civil Beat, the Star Advertiser and Hawaii News Now. It is highly unusual that a reporter, or multiple reporters, would get into the fray to defend a newbie candidate but then maybe there is money involved here too. . .or maybe not.
Some maintain that Keith Amemiya is a straw man for the status quo because his support comes from a coalition of very wealthy people that includes the Old Guard, like Mayor Kirk Caldwell and his supporters, Duane Kurisu of aio and Peter Ho, of Bank of Hawaii.
According to news reports, the Every1ne Hawaii group was started to “raise awareness about voter registration” among millennials early this year. But with the onset of the pandemic, they quickly moved to purchase two million face masks from China. In April, after Caldwell legislated that they were required, Every1ne Hawaii quickly moved to distribute them with their banner trucks everywhere. The masks arrived within days of the mayor’s order.
“Nicole Velasco and Robert Kurisu, two of the group’s core members, appeared at Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s news conference last week announcing their “#Masks4All” campaign to give away the face masks, and offered to send masks to anyone who wanted them,” according to Gordon Pang at the Star Advertiser, April 14.
The links above to Kurisu and Valesco are dead. But Valesco, who is working on Amemiya’s campaign, is also a favorite political appointee of Mayor Kirk Caldwell. She was a government affairs specialist at Ashford and Wriston LLP and an assistant analyst for the state auditor. She was also executive secretary for the Neighborhood Board Office and former Executive Director of the Office of Economic Development under Caldwell.
Robert Kurisu is the son of Duane Kurisu. Together, they own a huge chunk of downtown Honolulu. Duane holds the position of Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of aio LLC, Chief Executive Officer & Manager at PacificBasin Communications LLC (a subsidiary of aio LLC), Chairman & Chief Executive Officer at Hawaii Winter Baseball and Director and Vice President at Nutricopia, Inc.
“In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic response, it would be easy to mistake Every1ne for another nonprofit just stepping up to help. But in fact it’s a for-profit business venture that has benefited from undisclosed funders and community donations as well as family and political connections,” wrote Lyte.
It is unclear what the mission of the organization really is. One could theorize, that given the amount of data being collected and the vast social media engagement this organization would be a very valuable information-gathering site for the Amemiya campaign and for future affiliated political campaigns.
As of July 23 (ballots started going out July 16) the website still has no interactive voting guide on its website. As the ballots must be returned by Aug. 7, and 15,000 have reportedly already been received, it would seem that the intended impact of educating voters on their candidate match is diminished. But the data collected in this exercise would be incredibly important for any candidate that runs for office in the future.
What does this all have to do with Keith Amemiya?
Roy Amemiya, Keith’s cousin, is the Managing Director for the City and County of Honolulu under Mayor, Kirk Caldwell. Roy’s emails were a subject of an FBI investigation that targeted former Corporation Counsel Donna Leong in the Kealoha scandal. It was Leong who brokered the $250,000 deal to get convicted criminal and former Chief of Police Louis Kealoha to step down from his post after he was indicted.
That trial is still active, though dormant because of the pandemic shutdown.
If there are still more dots to connect in the Kealoha trial, one could argue that much is riding on who succeeds Caldwell in the Mayor’s office and how that will play with the indictments of the future.
Katherine Kealoha has made a plea bargain with the federal prosecutor and is expected to admit bombshells and name names. If she doesn’t tell the truth about her cohorts or if she withholds information, she could be looking at a very, very long sentence.
Many more indictments could be coming down, which is not good for those powerful few.
So, it could be argued by some, that perhaps the name Keith Amemiya is not the fresh perspective or agent of change he touts after all and that Every1one Hawaii may actually be a brilliantly mastered-minded, candy colored data collecting machine whose real goal is to keep certain political factions in power….or maybe not.