Campaign spending
proposal is a bad joke


State legislators are considering a bill that would change the rules for contributing money to political campaigns.

LEGISLATORS appear on the verge of enacting a farcical campaign spending reform bill that would result in business as usual. A bill that would have ended political contributions from companies that do business with the state has been changed to limit the prohibition to nonbid state and county contractors. Much -- if not most -- of the corruption has involved companies that won contracts through the bidding process and then had a field day writing up cost overruns.

Company contributions made through numerous employees and family members as a way of exceeding monetary limits have been common practice in mayoral and gubernatorial elections for decades. Mayor Harris has vehemently denied practicing favoritism in exchange for campaign contributions, but the money trail is emblazoned on his administration.

"If you look at the sizable amount of money over the campaign spending limits, the sheer amount alone suggests that there was something compelling to make that sizable donation," city Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee observed last year.

Lee was referring specifically to the laundering of $139,500 in campaign contributions from SSFM International Inc., Hawaii's fourth-largest engineering company, to Mayor Harris' 2000 re-election campaign. SSFM submitted a winning bid of $932,000 for a consulting contract for the Central Oahu Regional Park project, but cost overruns resulted in a $3.7 million total bill paid by taxpayers.

Michael Matsumoto, SSFM's chief executive officer, pleaded no contest in January 2003 to money laundering. In October, the company agreed to pay a record fine of $303,000 for campaign contribution violations.

Group 70 International, an architectural company whose employees and family members contributed $19,500 to the Harris campaign, likewise won the bidding competition to plan and design improvements at the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve for $450,000. After the Harris administration had approved amendments to the contract, Group 70's bill soared to more than $2 million. Group 70 was fined by the Campaign Spending Commission last year for exceeding limits on its donations to the Harris campaign.

A Star-Bulletin investigation following the 2000 election found that Harris' campaign received nearly $750,000 in contributions from companies that received business from the city. Many of those companies received their contracts through the bidding process.

Other objectionable components of the legislation further reveal it to be a sham. The House version has dropped a prohibition of contributions from corporations, described by Robert Watada, the Spending Commission's executive director, as "major funnels for persons wishing to launder all sorts of contributions."

The House bill also would increase the amount of charitable and community donations by politicians, a method of buying votes. Sen. Cal Kawamoto, a Waipahu Democrat, has pushed for the provision while being investigated by Watada's commission for exceeding the current limit on charitable donations.



Oahu Publications, Inc. publishes the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek and military newspapers

David Black, Dan Case, Larry Johnson,
Duane Kurisu, Warren Luke, Colbert
Matsumoto, Jeffrey Watanabe,
Frank Teskey, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor, 529-4791;
Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor, 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor, 529-4762;

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4748;

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