By Derrick DePledge
The Ceres Trust, a Northfield, Minn., based private foundation, has made significant donations in Hawaii over the past several years to help raise awareness about GMOs, seed preservation and food sustainability.
Kent Whealy, a seed preservation activist, and Judith Kern, a philanthropist, who lead the Ceres Trust, also made contributions to Native Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte's unsuccessful campaign for trustee at the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs last year. Ritte has been among the leaders of the anti-GMO movement in Hawaii.
Whealy and Kern each contributed the maximum $6,000 to Ritte's campaign -- $12,000 in total, or about 50 percent of the $23,886 Ritte raised. Whealy and Kern listed a Pahoa vacation rental where they regularly stay when visiting Hawaii as their address. But Whealy and Kern live on the mainland. Whealy, for example, listed a Charlevoix, Mich., address on federal campaign contributions he made last year.
State campaign-finance law only allows candidates to accept 30 percent of campaign contributions from nonresidents. The law was passed at a time when then-Gov. Linda Lingle was aggressively fundraising on the mainland and later relaxed amid questions about whether the limit is constitutional.
The Campaign Spending Commission flags donations from nonresidents in campaign-spending reports, but would not have flagged Whealy and Kern because of the Pahoa address.
Ritte said he was not very familiar with campaign-finance law. The issue was raised by Forbes this month in a story critical of the anti-GMO movement in Hawaii.
“For me, all it says is we’re doing a good job at community organizing when they start digging up those kinds of things,” Ritte said.