Wednesday, February 17, 1999

Spending commission
curbs free speech

KEEPING track of political campaign funds and enforcing laws regulating contributions and expenditures is a daunting task for the state Campaign Spending Commission and one that should be full-time. Instead, the commission has embarked on a meddlesome role of regulating what political candidates say, diminishing its true function and violating candidates' right of freedom of speech.

In December, the commission censured Melodie Aduja, an unsuccessful City Council candidate who blamed incumbent Steve Holmes for the poor condition of city projects in Holmes' Windward Oahu district. Holmes denied responsibility. The public was entirely capable of judging who was right.

The commission's intrusion into a campaign dispute in a Senate race is more outrageous. The commission issued a censure for one of the oldest strategies in the history of politics: accusing an opponent of catering to "special interests."

Several days before last November's election, Republican candidate Roger Ancheta, running for the Senate in the 18th District, mailed to voters a cartoon showing incumbent Randy Iwase in a jacket pocket labeled "Special Interests." The caption read, "Who does Randy Iwase represent? Himself."

Ancheta accused Iwase of a conflict of interest because he worked as a lawyer in a firm that received nearly $1 million from the Bishop Estate for representation in land-use and water-rights issues in 1996. Iwase was chairman of the Senate Planning, Land and Water Use Management Committee at the time. Iwase maintained that he acted properly as committee chairman, despite the Bishop Estate ties.

The alleged conflict was a legitimate campaign issue, and one that Ancheta was within his rights in pursuing. Former House Speaker Joseph Souki had to fend off similar accusations of being in conflict because of his Bishop Estate ties, and the issue probably played a role in the defeat of former Rep. Terrance Tom in his bid for a Senate seat.

A state law requires the spending commission to formulate a fair practices code and censure candidates who violate it. But the public is the best judge of any campaign political discourse. The Legislature should relieve the commission of any role in evaluating -- and censuring -- such activity.


Federalizing crime

NO issue is more embraced by lawmakers than the war against crime. Congress has enacted scores of laws in recent decades to demonstrate its commitment to a safe society, failing to realize that most crime is local and federal enforcement is duplicative. A new study indicates the federal effort may have been hurting more than helping.

A 16-member task force sponsored by the American Bar Association has issued a report noting that 40 percent of all federal criminal laws enacted since the Civil War were passed since 1970. State law enforcement still accounts for about 95 percent of all prosecutions nationwide. "Inappropriate federalization" not only duplicates those efforts, the report says, but it can contribute to "long-range damage to real crime control" by diverting federal money better spent on state law-enforcement systems and deplete money for federal law-enforcement efforts that are not duplicative.

"Crime legislation is popular," explains task force chairman Edwin Meese, attorney general during the Reagan administration. "Most of the time it's just feel-good legislation" because state and local laws are sufficient to address the targeted problems.

The task force's findings should be instructive to Congress that progress in reducing crime will be most attainable by bolstering efforts at state and local laws. Creating new categories of federal crimes may hamper the effort.


Hong Kong conflict

A crisis is brewing in relations between Hong Kong and Beijing over a Hong Kong court decision. Beijing officials have told Hong Kong's secretary of justice that the ruling by the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal was unconstitutional and should be changed.

If Hong Kong obeys, the principle of Hong Kong's judicial independence of China will be undermined and with it the whole concept of autonomy embodied in the terms of the handover of the territory by Britain to China in 1997.

The ruling in dispute said that any child of a Hong Kong resident has the right to live in the territory. China's stand that the decision should be reversed represents the most direct interference in Hong Kong affairs by Beijing since the handover. Under the 1984 agreement with Britain, China pledged noninterference in Hong Kong's affairs for 50 years.

It was unclear what Beijing specifically objected to in the ruling and the reason for its objection. One question being asked in Hong Kong is whether China's National People's Congress, which meets next month, will amend Hong Kong's Basic Law or overturn the Hong Kong court decision, which would trigger a constitutional crisis. The standing committee of the congress has taken the position that the law excludes illegitimate children and those born before at least one parent became a permanent resident of Hong Kong.

The issue goes beyond constitutional interpretation to serious practical considerations. The court ruling has caused alarm by raising the prospect of hundreds of thousands of mainland children streaming over the border to join parents in Hong Kong. Since the ruling more than 650 mainlanders have requested legal assistance to fight to remain in Hong Kong.

China obviously has the power to impose its will on Hong Kong on this issue. But if Beijing insists on having its way it could cause a massive loss of confidence in China's pledges of noninterference -- and in the territory's economic system. If the Beijing leaders are wise, they will back off and avert what could be a costly showdown.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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