Monday, September 13, 1999

Bush’s disclosure
of contributions

Bullet The issue: George W. Bush is posting contributions to his presidential campaign on his Internet site.
Bullet Our view: Bush's success in attracting a record amount in contributions has spurred interest in campaign finance reform.

GEORGE W. Bush has begun posting on his Internet site a detailed list of the size and source of every contribution to his campaign. This gesture of voluntary disclosure by the Texas governor and front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination is unprecedented in presidential politics.

The Federal Election Commission requires all candidates to provide such information shortly after the end of each quarter, and the government posts it on the Internet. So Bush's action is little more than a gesture -- but a welcome one. More openness about campaign contributions is always welcome.

In this case, the candidate has a lot to disclose. He has collected more than $49 million thus far -- a record and far more than anyone else in the field.

Bush may be trying to counter criticism of his success in fund-raising. Ellen Miller, executive director of Public Campaign, a group seeking reform of the current system, said, "He realizes that there's negative reaction to how much money he's raised and he's trying to take the sting out of it."

Bush's ability to attract contributions is phenomenal. And it has revived interest in the issue of campaign finance reform, although current proposals wouldn't directly affect him.

Even the Committee for Economic Development, a leading group of business executives, has called for reform, saying its members were tired of being pressured to make campaign contributions. One CED member, Charles Korb, said his colleagues were "tired of being hit up and shaken down." He added, "Politics ought to be about something besides hitting up companies for more and more money." Indeed it should be, but reconciling the need for restrictions with constitutional rights is difficult.

In Congress, House Speaker Dennis Hastert has agreed to call up a reform bill co-sponsored by Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Martin Meehan, D-Mass., that would ban "soft money." This is currently unregulated contributions that go to state political parties but often diverted to help presidential candidates. The measure also would curb "issue advocacy" ads and reform some functions of the Federal Election Commission.

The bill passed the House with bipartisan support last year, but the Senate version was filibustered to death. This year Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott has promised to bring campaign finance reform up by Oct. 12.

The "soft money" ban seems necessary to close a huge loophole in current law. However, the proposed restrictions on "issue advocacy" ads appear to be unconstitutional restrictions on free speech.

Limiting contributions to candidates is one thing; preventing people from voicing their opinions on political issues by independently buying time on television or space in newspapers is another thing entirely. If this isn't protected by the First Amendment, what is?


Arrest of a critic
at OHA meeting

Bullet The issue: An elderly woman was arrested after trying to speak at a meeting of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees.
Bullet Our view: The trustees might benefit by a dose of the aloha spirit.

There is an obvious need to maintain order at public meetings, but the arrest of a 71-year-old woman who tried to speak at a meeting of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees seems excessive.

Johanna Lawrence was escorted from the OHA offices Thursday by state sheriffs and arrested after the meeting, charged with criminal trespass. Chairwoman Rowena Akana ordered the woman removed on the ground that she had acted in a disruptive manner.

Lawrence wanted to speak during the "community concerns" portion of the OHA board agenda but got into an argument with Akana. The chairwoman had asked Lawrence not to use the time to vilify trustees instead of addressing agenda issues.

In her statement to the police, Akana said Lawrence did not submit written testimony but was allowed to present verbal testimony provided that she did not insult members of the board. But she said others in the audience urged Lawrence on and the meeting was disrupted.

Akana was criticized for her order by three other trustees. "Frenchy" DeSoto called the arrest an outrage. The three also questioned the security practices introduced by Akana. She has security guards present at board meetings and requires visitors to the agency to be escorted by OHA employees while in inner office or secured areas.

It may have been necessary to remove the woman from the meeting if she refused to comply with the chairwoman's directions, but it was not necessary to have her arrested. It made OHA seem oppressive.

The incident was a reflection of the conflicts among the trustees and between the board and its critics that have plagued the agency for years.

At the same meeting, former chairman Clayton Hee lost the chairmanship of the budget and finance committee after other trustees complained that the committee was holding up the funding of grants and other measures. Hee was left without a committee to chair after what appears to be another power play on the board.

Dare we suggest that OHA could use a dose of the aloha spirit?

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