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Saturday, April 26, 2003




[ OUR OPINION ]

Campaign reform still
elusive to lawmakers


THE ISSUE

Measures that loosen restrictions on political donations and ethics provisions are poised for approval.


WHEN former Governor Cayetano vetoed a campaign finance reform bill last year, proponents hoped that lawmakers would fine-tune it by removing the exemption they allowed for themselves, which was Cayetano's objection to the measure. Instead, what could have been the most important reform in years has been further diluted.

If the bill and others that loosen curbs on ethical behavior clear the Democratic-controlled Legislature as expected, Governor Lingle, who has pushed for such reforms, should veto them.

The proposal Cayetano turned down would have banned contributions by government contractors to candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and mayors, those who have the power to award contracts. Because legislators don't have that power, candidates for those offices were not included in the bill.

The current measure bans some donations from companies that are given non-bid contracts, but not from those awarded low-bid contracts and continues to allow contractors to give money to legislators, exceptions that have drawn criticism from Robert Watada, director of the state Campaign Spending Commission.

In addition, Lingle had sought a ban on gifts to public officials, but lawmakers would rather lower the value of gifts requiring reporting from those worth more than $200 to those worth more than $100. At any amount, such handouts fuel the public's perception that elected officials can be bought.

Legislators also would change provisions so that candidates would be allowed to donate unlimited amounts of their campaign funds to charities "to influence the nomination and election" of candidates, a modification from the maximum $2,000 for House candidates and $4,000 from Senate candidates. This temptation for abuse was submitted by Sen. Cal Kawamoto, who is being investigated for allegedly exceeding the limited.

Meanwhile, Ethics Commission director Dan Mollway is objecting to a bill that would virtually eliminate conflict of interest restraints on state workers and officials. The change would allow them to vote on matters even if their employers or business associates would benefit, as long as they do not receive direct financial rewards.

The difference in legislative action on campaign reforms last year and this year seems obvious: 2002 was an election year in which Democrats were up against Republican candidate Lingle. As governor, Lingle can erase that difference by exercising her veto power. None of these bills can be construed as reform.


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Bill won’t open up
tourism subcontracts


THE ISSUE

State House and Senate conferees have agreed on a bill aimed at disclosing contents of state tourism subcontracts.


STATE legislators are on the right track in wanting to open records of more tourism contracts involving tax dollars to the public, but its method of doing so won't work. A bill being prepared for final passage would leave the decision of opening up such records to the subcontractor, who is likely to keep them confidential. The decision should be made by the state office responsible for enforcing the open-records law.

The bill, approved by a House-Senate conference committee, is modest, dealing only with the Hawaii Tourism Authority, a state agency that pays $33.2 million of its annual budget of $56 million to the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau to promote tourism. The authority also pays the Philadelphia firm SMG $14 million to market the Hawaii Convention Center through mid-2006. HVCB's and SMG's contracts with other companies are state subcontracts.

The open-records problem surfaced last year when HVCB contracted with Walt Disney Co. to promote Hawaii tourism using the release of the "Lilo & Stitch" animated movie. The HVCB board would not allow the Tourism Authority's board to review the contract without signing a confidentiality agreement; the authority refused.

The bill before the Legislature does not resolve that conflict. It would leave the decision up to the primary contractor, in this case the HVCB, on whether to publicly disclose the subcontract, even though state tax money is involved. The basis for such a decision is whether the contract contains "proprietary" information. HVCB now does not need to explain why a contract remains sealed.

"My concern is who's making the call," says Les Kondo, director of the state Office of Information Practices, which rules on conflicts over whether state records should be open to the public. Kondo understandably believes he should be the one to determine whether information is proprietary.

Throughout the rest of state government, subcontracts will remain confidential, even under the pending proposal. However, the HVCB is such an integral part of the Tourism Authority's activity that it essentially amounts to a surrogate of the state.

The HVCB, a nonprofit organization of tourism businesses, is not an ordinary government contractor. Indeed, it bills itself as "truly a public-private partnership" that acts in "collaboration" with the Tourism Authority. Legislators would not be unfair in subjecting HVCB's contracts to public scrutiny while deferring to confidentiality concerns of other state subcontractors.

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Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Frank Teskey, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor, 529-4791; fbridgewater@starbulletin.com
Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor, 529-4768; mrovner@starbulletin.com
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor, 529-4762; lyoungoda@starbulletin.com

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4748; mpoole@starbulletin.com

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