Don't relax limits on funding elections


POSTED: Sunday, February 22, 2009

For all the wrong reasons, the Legislature enacted a sensible law four years ago to limit corporate contributions to political candidates for state offices. For the same reasons, legislators now are poised to repeal the law. The limits should remain to curb corporate muscle in the political process.

The 2005 Democratic Legislature imposed limits of $2,000 - $1,000 during the primary and $1,000 in the general election - in contributions by individuals to a particular candidate. A candidate may receive no more than 20 percent of his or her campaign funds from out of state. The clear motive was to restrict donations to Republican Gov. Linda Lingle in the 2006 election.

The tactic failed, and now legislators want to circumvent the individual ceiling by allowing unlimited contributions to corporate political action committees. It essentially would create a system for a person to contribute to numerous PACs, from which the money could be funneled to the same candidate.

The legislation also would eliminate the restriction on mainland donations so candidates can fully tap those sources. In her dissent when the bill passed a House committee last week, Republican Rep. Cynthia Thielen said the change is intended to benefit Democratic U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie if he decides to run for governor and tap his significant mainland sources.

Rep. Della Au Belatti, a maverick Democrat, called such tomfoolery “;a huge step backward”; for Hawaii to join states with the most regressive policies. Rules in federal elections and laws in 21 states ban corporate political contributions altogether, and 14 other states limit such donations.

“;Given the importance of money in political campaigns, the priority this bill would give to corporate influence undermines our democracy, a factor recognized by most other states,”; testified Barbara Pole, legislative chairwoman for the Hawaii chapter of the liberal Americans for Democratic Action.