By Richard BorrecaSunday, February 17, 2002
Progress slow in
When a downtown book store closed several years ago, the owner put all the books on sale, reducing the remainder every day until only the mortally unpopular tomes were left. Among those sad discards were almost all the nonfiction books available on reforming the national political process. Especially well-represented were books on campaign finance reform.
And for good reason.
Campaign reform sounds good as a check-off box on your election brochure, but actually doing it is another question entirely.
Unpopular as campaign reform may be, it is still vitally important, because how much someone can raise determines who can run for office and who can win.
As Gov. Ben Cayetano mused last week, the difficulty with limiting how much money people can give and get for a public office comes very close to limiting free speech. When it strays over the line, the U.S. Supreme Court has been quick to toss out the infractions.
Today, campaign reform is being driven locally by Democrats in the Legislature who know they need a counter to all the Democrats who have been convicted on various charges in the last four years, as well as the criminal investigation into the campaign fund-raising practices of Mayor Jeremy Harris.
Campaign reform in the state House has been pushed for the last three years by some of the young House leaders, including Rep. Sylvia Luke, vice speaker; Rep. Scott Sakai, Labor Committee chairman; and Rep. Brian Schatz, Democratic whip. The proposal hasn't been revolutionary, but it would be a big change.
The House bill would forbid corporations and unions from giving to political candidates, and it would stop contractors who do business with government from giving any campaign contributions.
The House bill mirrors much of the federal legislation, which has been on the books for more than a decade and has been criticized for being too weak and ineffectual.
In fact, the federal law is on the verge of being changed to remove so-called soft money provisions. "Soft money" is broadly defined as money that can be raised without limits for any political purpose. It is supposed to be used for "party-building activities," but in reality it is used for whatever the Republicans and Democrats want it to go for. It can buy expensive political polls for local politicians or it can go for offices and other equipment, thereby freeing the so-called hard money for television commercials.
In the 1999-2000 period, the last one available, Democrats and Republicans both collected about $250 million in soft money.
Hawaii treats all contributions as hard money contributions; they are limited and can only be used for specific campaign purposes. A Senate candidate can't go out and buy new muumuus with the money gleaned from a campaign fund-raiser, nor can one operate the family car on gas bought from the campaign kitty.
The state also limits how much money a candidate can get from any individual. If you are running for a two-year office, you can get $2,000 per contributor; four-year offices allow you to collect $4,000 per contributor; and statewide four-year offices, such as governor and lieutenant governor, are permitted to collect $6,000 per contributor.
The changes in Hawaii's campaign laws are being carried out by the Legislature, which, interestingly enough, doesn't stand to get the really big contributions. The millions are raised not by candidates for the state House, but by candidates for governor and mayor. This is because governors and mayors influence who gets nonbid contracts.
So it is interesting to see that the two top candidates for governor, Democrat Jeremy Harris and Republican Linda Lingle, have stayed away from the campaign reform spotlight. Neither has focused on it in their campaign, except to say that their administrations wouldn't be so crass as to trade money for jobs.
Veteran campaigner D.G. "Andy" Anderson is writing to his supporters, including architects and engineers, and telling them that if elected, "As one of my very first pieces of legislation, I will adopt, introduce and personally lobby for passage of the Campaign Spending Commission's reform package.
"I am fully aware of the self-serving type of bagmen that travel the town with their threats and intimidation, supposedly on behalf of a candidate," Anderson wrote.
Councilman Duke Bainum, who is running for mayor, has been the only other candidate so far to take a public stand on the campaign reform issue. Bainum also supports the entire package.
The issue would be clarified now if both local major political parties could join the debate with specific reform proposals for their candidates this fall.
Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at email@example.com.