House urged to halt political-gifts bill


POSTED: Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Citizen watchdog groups warned that a tidal wave of corporate money would unfairly influence elections unless the state House of Representatives stops a measure up for a vote today.

Saying they need to “;stop the tsunami”; of corporate money, the good-government groups held a news conference at the Capitol yesterday, carrying umbrellas and wearing ponchos to shield themselves from fake $10,000 bills flying through the air.

“;Who should be funding Hawaii's campaigns: a broad base of citizen donors or wealthy corporations?”; asked Nikki Love, spokeswoman for the group Common Cause. “;Hawaii's democracy is at stake.”;

House Bill 215 would set a $50,000 limit on corporate donations to political action committees, which then donate money to candidates. Currently, such corporate contributions are unlimited because a previous $1,000 cap is not being enforced while a 2007 Maui court case is pending.

The House already rejected a separate bill Feb. 25 that would have permanently allowed companies to donate unlimited amounts of money for political fundraising.

“;Large corporate contributions tend to dilute the voice of the voter,”; said Jean Aoki, legislative liaison for the League of Women Voters in Hawaii. “;Money talks, big time.”;

Twenty-one states and the federal government ban corporate contributions to political action committees and candidates.

Majority Leader Rep. Blake Oshiro said the $50,000 contribution limit is a reasonable compromise, but the good-government groups would prefer that business money be banned from elections altogether.

“;The advocates are concerned, but what they don't understand is that currently the limitation on the books is not being enforced by the Campaign Spending Commission, so currently there is no limitation,”; said Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa).

If the bill passes the House, it still must be considered by the Senate and go to Gov. Linda Lingle before becoming law.