author On Politics

Richard Borreca

Want reform? Don’t
get your hopes up

If clean, open elections with honest, well-scrubbed candidates is the election year ideal, 2004 seems to be shaping up as the year without the big ethics package.

This year was primed as new Governor Lingle's first State of the State address detailed her own concerns about public ethics and honesty.

"The practice of giving expensive gifts to legislators and other politicians is a bad idea, and it should stop," Lingle candidly told the Legislature.

"It seems that just reporting an expensive gift is not enough. We feel there is a gracious way to tell people that even if they have the best of motives, we are just not allowed to accept expensive gifts for any reason," Lingle said.

At first the Legislature appeared to be ready to respond, but in the end, bills to reform campaign contributions did not pass. The move in January not only to reform campaign spending but to open the process to more public scrutiny also floundered.

By the end of the session the Legislature's collective response was, "Who, us?"

"The bills have major holes and the holes are getting wider, so instead of refining and limiting unethical behavior, it is allowing more unethical behavior," Sen. Les Ihara grumbled during the 2003 session.

Plans for a legislative summer of campaign spending reform work never came about, and the bills to limit how much candidates can collect and how open their reports should be are still stuck in committee.

Meanwhile, the city prosecutor and the Campaign Spending Commission are continuing their investigation into the fund-raising abuses of Mayor Harris' campaign.

Already more than $600,000 in fines have been collected during the past two years from more than 60 local companies that were brought up on charges of making illegal campaign contributions. The investigation has uncovered either a conspiracy so broad that the campaigns of former Gov. Ben Cayetano, former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono and Harris were the most active money laundry in the state or Hawaii's political donors as a group were such amoral financial backers that they didn't care what the law said.

On one hand, Hawaii has a Legislature that has been incapable of reforming its campaign and ethics laws. On the other hand, Hawaii's politicians exist in a culture of political donations where the laws have had little bearing on professional conduct. Either way, this doesn't appear to be the election year that incumbents will bring in the reform.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at


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