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Sunday, June 24, 2001



Failed bill would
ban contractor
donations

The state campaign spending
head says stronger donation
laws are necessary

See also:
Harris funds questionable;
Family ties run strong on donations


By Rick Daysog
rdaysog@starbulletin.com

The web of donations by contractors, employees and their relatives to political candidates underscores the need for stronger campaign finance laws, says the head of the state Campaign Spending Commission.

In response to a Star-Bulletin study indicating that the Harris campaign raised nearly $750,000 from contractors and their family members and friends, the commission's executive director, Robert Watada, renewed his call for a ban on all political donations from contractors.

Earlier this year, Watada backed a bill in the state Legislature that would have banned political contributions from contractors as well as unions and corporations. The bill was killed in the state Senate.

Watada said he believes such a ban is necessary to avoid the appearance of a quid pro quo. He noted that the Federal Election Commission prohibits contractors to the U.S. government from giving political contributions in national races, except during certain set time periods.

Many mainland states have a similar prohibition on their books, he added.

Craig Holman, policy analyst with the New York University Law School's Brennan Center for Justice, said the practice of soliciting donations from contractors raises "a lot of red flags" about the contracting process.

Known as "pay for play," the contractor in essence is giving a donation while bidding on a contract, said Holman, who is drafting a bill with New Jersey legislators that would outlaw such practices in that state.

Even in cases where competitive bidding is conducted, there is often an element of subjectivity, said Holman.

"If there's any appearance of a quid pro quo, this has got to be it," he said.

A similar law that bars political contributions by individuals and companies that receive nonbid contracts and discretionary land-use approvals from the city was passed by the city in 1995 but was struck down three years later by a state judge. The law conflicted with state law that does not ban such contributions, ruled then-Circuit Judge Kevin Chang.

City prosecutors at the time refused to enforce the ordinance, saying the law violated an individual's First Amendment right to contribute to political campaigns.

Members of the building industry typically oppose such bans because they say it infringes on their right to take part in the political process.

Contractors said they give political donations because they are concerned with the way government is run and not because they are looking to get a state or city contract.

"I think there needs to be campaign finance reform. How you get there is another thing," said Craig Watase, president-elect of the 500-member Building Industry Association. "But to select the construction industry is not fair."



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