House kills plan to lift cap on campaign gifts
Good-government groups declared victory yesterday after House lawmakers shelved a proposal to lift a $1,000 cap on the amount of money corporations can contribute to political campaigns.
Democratic leaders in the House scuttled a vote on the proposal, House Bill 2455, fearing the measure did not have enough votes to pass.
Although a similar measure remains alive in the Senate, a coalition of groups opposed to the proposal said it believes House members -- all of whom face re-election in November -- will take similar action when that measure comes before them.
"The coalition is very happy with (yesterday's) outcome, because it shows that the legislators took our concerns to heart," Nikki Love, a spokeswoman for Common Cause Hawaii, said via e-mail. "We need to continue to find ways to reduce the influence of money in politics, and help restore public trust in our democratic process."
The proposed legislation comes after the Campaign Spending Commission lost a Maui Circuit Court challenge raised last year by Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares. Her campaign sued after the commission said she could not accept more than $1,000 from a corporation. The Circuit Court ruled in Tavares' favor, and the commission has appealed the ruling.
If the Legislature does not change the law this year, it will leave up to the courts to decide whether a corporation can donate more than $1,000 to a candidate.
House and Senate bills aim to clean up that confusion in the current campaign spending law.
Supporters of the proposal say it simply clarifies the law and allows corporations to donate the same amounts that private citizens may donate, but critics note it would essentially set no limit on money a corporation can put in a campaign treasury.
With all Republicans opposed to the measure and a sizable number of Democrats voicing opposition, majority leadership decided to refer the bill back to committee.
House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell (D, Manoa) said there was no clear-cut reason behind members' opposition.
"It really was all over the place," he said. "I don't think there's a clear sense of how to approach the issue."
He said he would not speculate on how the Senate proposal, SB 2204, might fare once it is received by the House.
Those opposed to the bill included most of the so-called House "dissidents," a group of more than a dozen Democrats who have challenged leadership on several issues over the past two sessions.