Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, July 29, 1998


Candidates insulated
from advocacy ads

ATTENTION all mud slingers, cheap-shot artists, distorters and fabricators, now is your chance to get into Hawaii politics.

Imagine if you could run television commercials announcing that the Coalition to Eat Baby Dolphins and Turtles endorses the work done by Candidate X.

Imagine the fun you could have attacking candidates, wildly trumpeting the achievements of friends, pilloring enemies, all without having to say who you are, what you really want or how much money you are spending to do it.

By phrasing your television, radio or newspaper ad as an issue-advocacy ad you can say what you want, attack whomever you want or draw whatever conclusion you see fit. Best of all, the ads can be blind drops; there is no requirement to say who is sponsoring the ads.

And of course, the ads are off the campaign spending books, so outside forces can mess around in local elections without having to abide by any spending limits.

The problem hit the mainland two years and it is likely to find a home in Hawaii this year.

The state Campaign Spending Commission took note of the problem at its last meeting, calling it the biggest loophole ever opened in campaign regulation.

But the commission also noted that because of U.S. Supreme Court rulings the issue ads are protected free speech and can't be fiddled with.

The most obvious groups to be dancing through the new loophole would be national issue groups hoping to influence the proposed state constitutional amendment on same-sex marriage.

But the issue groups don't stop there. According to the latest tally from the Federal Election Commission, there are more than 3,700 registered political action committees.

They can all make the trip to Hawaii's political battle fields.

According to a recent Washington Post article, both Democratic and Republican national groups are worried about the issues-advocacy groups.

The Chamber of Commerce fears that labor unions could toss as much as $20 million into those blind ads this fall. Meanwhile, Democrats fear that GOP-friendly coporations would be dumping millions in their own spending blitz.

Already in Hawaii, environmental groups are praising U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and urging you to call him up and thank him for his good works. That's a benign issue-advocacy ad, although it doesn't count against Abercrombie's campaign spending and isn't bound by campaign donations.

Later on, the campaign could feature the biggest unions and biggest corporations spending hundreds of thousands to influence the race.

The money is called "soft money" not subject to spending limits.

Because they are not bound by those spending limits, the issue advocates can easily lump several candidates together and spend $75,000 in a last-minute television barrage.

THE best defense for candidates, according to campaign advisors, is to insulate supporters early on, so that when the attacks are launched it will not infect the campaign.

If that doesn't work, campaign strategists are urging candidates to be ready to fire back.

This year figuring out what is real in the fuzzy world of politics will be even more confusing.



Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at rborreca@pixi.com




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