Time is right
for campaign finance
reform in Hawaii


The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a bill that would reform Hawaii's campaign financing law.

A bill aimed at banning political contributions by companies that do business with the city or state was vetoed last year by Governor Lingle because of numerous flaws. The Legislature is revisiting the issue and should approve a refined version of the measure worthy of her signature.

A bill approved earlier this month by the Senate Judiciary Committee would contain many proposals made by Robert Watada, director of the state Campaign Spending Commission and an aggressive enforcer of existing spending rules. Watada, who plans to retire at the end of the current legislative session, has complained about holes in those rules, allowing corporations to become "major funnels for persons wishing to launder all sorts of contributions."

Lingle said last year's bill contained "very serious technical errors" as well as provisions that could have been challenged on constitutional grounds. "It is crucial," she said in her veto message, "that a bill regulating campaign contributions be clear in its application, well thought out and fair."

The bill endorsed by the Judiciary Committee would limit contributions from out-of-state residents and restrict certain contributions from banks, labor organizations and corporations. The bill would prohibit candidates from soliciting money on state or county property.

Most important, it would ban contributions from state and county contractors from the time a contract is signed until the contract is completed. The legislation has been triggered largely by corruption involving companies that won state or county contracts through the bidding process and then were allowed to add cost overruns, or that obtained nonbid contracts. Contracts should not be granted or costs added in exchange for campaign contributions.

Another provision would bar state and county political candidates from contributing campaign funds to charities, regarded by some as a method of buying votes. Former Sen. Cal Kawamoto, who was alleged to have exceeded the current $4,000 limit on charitable contributions, was the chief obstructionist to reforms for years as chairman of the Senate Transportation, Military Affairs and Government Operations Committee. He was defeated in last year's election.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Colleen Hanabusa says she still expects strong opposition from banks, corporations and labor unions arguing that the reforms would restrict their First Amendment rights. She says it is important that the reforms be enacted in this session because of Watada's upcoming retirement.

Kawamoto's absence and Watada's presence provide political chemistry that should result in effective legislation. Consultation with the Lingle administration is needed to assure that a second veto is not forthcoming.

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