House bill would lift cap on corporate money to legislators
Several legislators are fast tracking a piece of legislation that would lift a $1,000 cap on the amount of money that corporations can give to legislators. House Bill 2455 would add fuel to the fire of cynicism people feel about politics.
When it comes to money and politics, the general public is very aware of the fact that private money influences the decisions of lawmakers. The money, we know, affects the laws that get made, which in turn affect all of us taxpayers.
We also know that between 2002 and 2004, the oil industry spent $696,402 in lobbying and campaign expenditures in order to influence laws at the Capitol. And we know that these same oil companies opposed Hawaii's gas price gap and worked hard to successfully remove it. We're aware, too, that, based on the way the gas cap worked, Hawaii taxpayers would be saving a lot of money if it were still in place.
These are the types of things that create public cynicism and distrust in the political process. We understand how the game is played in general. We see the writing on the wall. This doesn't mean that every single thing that goes on at the Capitol is bad, but there is plenty for us to be cynical about.
This example makes yet another case that, when it comes to pulling strings and making things happen at the policy level, taxpayers are still left feeling powerless. We see corporate conglomerates pay to play all of the time, and it undermines the trust of taxpayers and small-business owners.
HB 2455, and its companion Senate Bill 3141, would permit even more corporate contributions to legislators than is currently allowed. As of now, the amount of campaign donations that corporations can give directly to candidates is set at $1,000. This cap has proven to reduce the amount of corporate money flowing directly to legislators. Corporations can still give money through their employees and by contributing money to non-candidate committees, but at least the $1,000 limit keeps the direct contributions in check.
In 2004 and 2005, the Lingle administration received more than $929,000 in direct corporate contributions. With the $1,000 cap in place that number dropped to $100,000 in 2006, a decrease of 88 percent.
HB 2455, introduced by House Speaker Calvin Say and Reps. Kirk Caldwell, Tommy Waters, Blake Oshiro and Sylvia Luke, would lift that $1,000 cap and allow corporations to give thousands of dollars to as many candidates as they please.
At a time when the public needs our leaders to take courageous leaps in the right direction, it's alarming that some of them would fast-track a piece of legislation that takes a U-turn in the wrong direction.
For Hawaii to move forward on our most important issues, it's going to be important for the "little guy" to have a voice. Whether it's small businesses, laborers or average taxpayers, we need to have an equal seat at the table with the wealthy elite. By allowing even more corporate money to flow directly to legislators, we're not moving in the right direction to allow for that possibility.
Kory Payne is community organizer for Voter Owned Hawaii, a group favoring public campaign funding, and Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Sierra Club Hawaii.