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Abercrombie in good shape despite ruling


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POSTED: Saturday, August 15, 2009

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie was understandably disappointed when the state Campaign Spending Commission prohibited him from transferring $900,000 left over from his 2008 congressional campaign to his current campaign for governor. The rules and limits for federal and state elections differ significantly, and transfers clearly are disallowed in either direction.

Hawaii does allow Abercrombie to transfer up to $6,000 from his federal campaign committee to his gubernatorial committee. Aside from that, he will need to return the federal contributions to the donors and ask them to make similar donations to his current campaign in order to redirect the contributed money.

Likewise, if Gov. Linda Lingle decides to challenge U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye next year or run for U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka's seat two years later, she will not be allowed to transfer to a Senate campaign the $125,000 left over at the end of last year from her reelection campaign. The Federal Election Commission has prohibited such transfers, noting that federal law, unlike many state laws, forbids contributions from corporations and labor unions.

Karl Sandstrom, Abercrombie's campaign attorney, argued that no Hawaii law specifically prohibits transferring leftover federal campaign money to the same politician's state campaign. In so many words, however, the state law does ban such transfers by excluding them from those specifically allowed.

The state allows transfer of “;surplus funds”; from a campaign for a state office to that for another state office. For example, a politician running for the state House could decide in a later year, or even at mid-campaign, to run for the state Senate or governor and transfer funds to follow the course. Specifically denied such transfer is campaign money for “;federal elective offices”; being funneled to campaigns for state offices.

The commission's ruling this week does not leave Abercrombie's campaign destitute. He has raised about $486,000 for his gubernatorial campaign and has about $250,000 in the bank. Mayor Mufi Hannemann has $1.2 million in his gubernatorial campaign coffer, and Republican Lt. Gov. James “;Duke”; Aiona has $871,000 available.

Returning congressional campaign money to the donors and getting them to redirect the money to Abercrombie's campaign for governor may be cumbersome but probably would be fruitful, even ruling out those who already have contributed the maximum under state law.

The ruling is less than crippling to the 10-term congressman, who led Hannemann in a DailyKos/Research poll in June among likely Democratic primary voters 42 percent to 36 percent, with 36 percent undecided. In a general-election race, the poll showed Abercrombie ahead of Aiona 45 percent to 36 percent, with 19 percent yet to make up their minds. None of the campaigns are hurting.