Thursday, March 5, 1998

Democrats’ cynical
campaign ‘reform’ bill

AFTER 40 years in power, Hawaii Democrats are accustomed to getting the lion's share of campaign contributions. That's not the result of political conviction, but opportunism. It's good for business to be on the winning side, no matter what you think of the winners. And Hawaii has a long record of re-electing incumbents. Combine the advantage of incumbency with unwavering support from organized labor and you have a formidable advantage.

But that's not good enough for the Democrats. They want to cut off any possible source of funding for what's left of the Republican Party after all those years of election defeats.

That is the transparent motive behind the House Judiciary Committee's passage of a bill that would reduce the financial aid that political parties can give candidates to the same level as those in place for individuals. That's a reduction for gubernatorial candidates from $50,000 to $6,000. For candidates for the state Senate, the limit would be lowered to $4,000. The bill would also limit individual contributions to parties in any two-year period to $6,000; the current limit is $50,000.

That seems fair enough until you notice that the Democrats don't need any of that money. As the incumbents and the designated heirs of incumbents, their candidates can raise plenty of money from people who do business with government, without help from the party.

Ben Cayetano already has more than $2 million in his gubernatorial re-election campaign fund. No wonder he likes this measure.

Also noteworthy is the timing of the committee action -- right after the Hawaii Republicans held their Lincoln Day dinner, which raised $250,000. Obviously the Democrats didn't like that.

In fact, the bill originally would have been retroactive to Jan. 1, 1998, which would have forced the GOP to return much of the money raised at the dinner. Evidently the Democrats decided that was too outrageous, because the retroactivity provision was deleted before the bill passed on a party-line vote.

Judiciary Chairman Terrance Tom defended the measure as a way to prevent mainland money from influencing Hawaii campaigns. Tom pointed out that it would apply to Democrats as well as Republicans. Sure, but Democratic candidates don't need mainland money. It's the minority Republicans who need it and who would be hurt by this so-called reform. Moreover, Hawaii congressional Democrats such as Daniel Inouye and Neil Abercrombie aren't bashful about accepting mainland contributions.

Defeating incumbents can be an awesome challenge. Among other things, it usually takes lots of money. Imposing limits on campaign contributions that mainly affect the people who are trying to oust incumbents is not true reform. It is hypocrisy.


Estate subpoenas

THE Bishop Estate has averted sanctions for allegedly withholding documents subpoenaed by the state attorney general, but it would be mistaken to interpret the court victory as license to flout the information-gathering process. Any willful act by trustees to block Attorney General Margery Bronster's investigation of the estate can be interpreted only as an attempt to conceal wrongdoing.

The ruling was the second setback within days for Bronster. Her request that an independent administrator be appointed to oversee the estate to assure prompt compliance with subpoenas was rejected earlier by Probate Judge Colleen Hirai.

In issuing his ruling, Circuit Judge Kevin S.C. Chang saw no evidence that the Bishop Estate trustees acted in bad faith in reponding to Bronster's subpoenas, although circumstances "may appear suspicious or even troubling." Indeed, the estate failed to turn over credit-card billings by estate employee Milton Holt, a former state senator, for carousing at hostess bars, restaurants and Las Vegas casinos until after Bronster had obtained bank records of the transactions. Legitimate questions also arise from other delays in producing records.

Legal obstacles hindered Bronster's office in its attempt to determine whether the estate deliberately withheld documents because of their potentially explosive content. William McCorriston, the estate's attorney, maintains delays were caused by the sheer volume of documents subpoenaed, including those needing to be reviewed for reasons of confidentiality unrelated to the allegations of mismanagement that prompted her probe. Lacking evidence of any deliberate attempt by the estate to conceal wrongdoing, Chang had no choice but to reject sanctions.

At some point, however, the obstacles that have prevented Bronster from pursuing evidence of such concealment may be removed. If evidence of concealment comes to light, the trustees will have dug an even deeper hole than the estate's critics allege already exists. The rulings by Hirai and Chang should not deter Bronster in her efforts to determine the facts.

Bishop Estate Archive

India's election

THE results of India's general election have again failed to produce a parliamentary majority for any party, forcing the formation of a coalition government. The situation recalls the 1996 elections, when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won more seats than any other party and formed a government. But its coalition collapsed in two weeks.

Last month's elections were held three years ahead of schedule after the long-dominant Congress Party withdrew its support of a 14-party United Front coalition government.There is much concern that a Hindu nationalist government would widen the divide between India's Hindu majority and Muslim minority and increase the danger of violence.

India's future course is no clearer now than before the election. Weak coalitions are unlikely to govern effectively, but the election results require that another one be cobbled together.

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