[ OUR OPINION ]
Get tough on corruption,
STYMIED last year in trying to enact campaign spending reform, the Legislature should adopt a modest measure to stiffen penalties against bribery of public officials. Legislators also must fight back retaliatory measures sponsored by a target of the Campaign Spending Commission and his allies.
Hawaii's law enforcement officials are proposing legislation that would toughen the state law against bribery.
Hawaii's law enforcement coalition proposes that someone offering a bribe to public officials or a public official accepting a bribe be charged with a Class B felony, doubling the current penalty to as much as 10 years in prison. It also would criminalize gifts to public officials from people whose activities they regulate, with violators facing as much as five years in prison. The bill is supported by Robert Watada, the Spending Commission's executive director.
Sen. Cal Kawamoto is a sponsor of an absurd bill that would allow the Senate to fire Watada and has signed onto a resolution with inflammatory language calling for a state audit of the commission. The resolution's main sponsor is Senate President Robert Bunda, who came to the defense of Kawamoto's strangulation of last year's campaign-spending reform bill.
Kawamoto, a Waipahu Democrat, has received $50,000 in campaign donations from city and state contractors during the past eight years. He neglected to report $20,000 of those donations. As chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Kawamoto has helped protect the corrupt system of politicians rewarding companies for their contributions.
Last year's reform legislation would have banned such contributions from city and state contractors. When it reached a House-Senate conference, House members complained that Kawamoto had weakened it to make it worse than existing law, and House Speaker Calvin Say asked for his removal from the conference. Bunda defended Kawamoto and refused to remove him. The bill died in conference.
Kawamoto also has been investigated by the commission for allegedly exceeding the $4,000 limit on charitable contributions from Senate candidates, regarded by some as a method of buying votes. He tucked into last year's legislation a provision that would have legalized unlimited charitable donations from politicians.
Bunda's resolution calling for an audit suggests that the commission or its staff engage in "activity that could be considered to be a form of 'bounty hunting'" in its pursuit of campaign-spending violators. Kawamoto and five other senators have signed the Bunda resolution as co-sponsors.
The resolution asks that the auditor report on how the commission determines "the truthfulness of allegations in complaints" filed with it. As further intimidation, the resolution asks the auditor to report on "the existence of or the need for" a gag on commission staffers, prohibiting them from talking to the press or public about an ongoing investigation.