Saturday, February 2, 2002

Limits on donations
challenged in lawsuit

A Harris supporter raises
constitutional objections to
the state campaign fund law

By Rick Daysog

A supporter of Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris has sued the state Campaign Spending Commission and Executive Director Robert Watada in federal court, saying they are violating his free-speech rights.

In a 19-page complaint filed yesterday in U.S. District Court, attorney Lex Smith said the commission is wrongfully prohibiting him from donating the legal limit of $6,000 to Harris' gubernatorial campaign because he gave money to Harris' mayoral campaign two years ago.

"Contributions to Jeremy Harris' 2000 mayoral campaign were made solely for the purpose of supporting his mayoral race and not to support any other election," Smith said. "The campaign spending law, as interpreted and applied by the commission, unfairly singles out and treats plaintiff differently from other contributors in so far as his right ... to exercise the right to freedom of speech, expression and association."

Smith, a longtime Harris supporter, has threatened for several months to sue the commission over this issue.

In his complaint, he said that he can only donate $3,000 to Harris' gubernatorial campaign since he gave $3,000 to Harris' mayoral campaign in 1999 and 2000.

By contrast, people who donated money to Harris opponents can give up to $6,000 since the opponents did not run for election two years ago, Smith said.

Harris, who defeated former City Councilman Mufi Hannemann in the 2000 mayoral race, is running for governor this year as a Democrat.

Ruth Ann Becker, a Harris campaign spokeswoman, said she was not aware of the details of Smith's suit. But she said the campaign supports the idea that people should be able to donate the full amount allowed by the law.

Watada denied that the commission is discriminating against people who contributed to Harris' mayoral campaign.

Under state law a person or business can give no more than $4,000 for the mayor's race during a four-year period. The legal limit for the governor's race is $6,000.

Since the four-year period for the 2000 mayoral race overlaps with this year's gubernatorial race, contributions made during the previous campaign must be counted toward this year's election, said Watada.

"The law is the law," he said.

Watada said he believes that Smith lawsuit is linked to the Harris campaign -- a charge the Harris campaign denied.

Watada noted that Smith's partners in the law firm of Kobayashi Sugita & Goda contributed more than $9,000 to Harris' 2000 re-election effort.

During the same period, the firm received more than $200,000 in nonbid city work, according to the city.

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