The panel scuttled a House version they said didn't go far enough to rein in abuses and replaced it with the language contained in the original legislation, which was favored by the Campaign Spending Commission and citizen watchdog groups.
The bill is headed for a showdown in conference committee when members of both chambers gather to hash out final details.
As it stands, the measure links permissible loan amounts to current contribution limits -- $2,000 for House candidates, $4,000 for four-year seats and $6,000 for governor and lieutenant governor. Loans (excluding those from commercial lenders and family members) would also be declared contributions if they remain unpaid at the end of the election period.
Current law allows candidates to skirt limits by calling contributions loans, critics contend.
"Every election cycle, some candidate abuses this loophole by taking out large personal loans that are never repaid," said Larry Meacham of Common Cause Hawaii.
Arlene Kim Ellis of the League of Women Voters said the Senate measure is the best way to close "one of the most onerous loopholes in the state campaign finance statute."
"This circumvention of campaign contribution limits by special interests and influence peddlers is not at all acceptable," she said.
Also testifying in support of the tighter loan restrictions were Bob Watada of the Campaign Spending Commission and Democratic Party Chairwoman Marilyn Bornhorst.
The House measure, espoused by Judiciary Chairman Terrance Tom (D, Kaneohe), would have required candidates to pay off loans within five years and would make them unable to run for elective office again until the obligation was met.
Tom called the House draft a big step forward after it advanced from his committee last month. At the time, Tom said he felt contribution limits were too low for loans, which he believes should be treated differently.
"I don't know that there should be a limit," said Tom.
"The concept of a loan is to be paid back."
But Watada maintained that without a loan limit, there is effectively no contribution limit.
"The House side doesn't want to close the loophole," Watada said.
That information was part of a package passed from Senate conferees on same-sex marriage legislation to their House counterparts.
House conferees said they would review the documents prepared by the insurance commissioner's office and Tax Director Ray Kamikawa and return to the table Wednesday to try and narrow the gulf on the issue.
Conferees are considering two bills -- one that would ban same-sex marriages through a constitutional amendment and another extending some marriage benefits to same-sex couples.
The state Supreme Court has ruled that denying same-sex couples marriage licenses without showing compelling reason is unconstitutional.
Legislation drafted in the Senate offers many more benefits to same-sex couples than the House version.
A letter from Shelley Santo of the state Insurance Division said the cost of family coverage for same-sex couples would be the same as for married partners and would not affect service costs. And Kamikawa noted that permitting same-sex couples to file joint income tax returns would have no negative impact on the administration of state tax laws.
Rather, Kamikawa said same-sex couples filing jointly could provide the state with an estimated $400,000 in added revenues because of a lower standard deduction.