Reform groups want changes in campaign spending laws


POSTED: Sunday, March 28, 2010

Citizen and government reform groups are pressing for changes in the state's campaign spending laws before the crucial fall elections, but it is not clear whether legislators will adopt the reforms.

Groups ranging from Common Cause and Kanu Hawaii to the state Campaign Spending Commission are asking for a rewrite of the laws that govern how much money politicians can collect.

Barbara Wong, the commission's executive director, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the law, created in 1973, has never been overhauled.

“;Over the past 37 years, numerous amendments have been made to the campaign finance laws in a piecemeal fashion and, apparently, with little regard to the laws as a whole,”; said Wong in testimony.

The law was set for an overhaul last year, but Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the bill and the Legislature failed to override.

Now Sen. Brian Taniguchi, Judiciary Committee chairman, says he wants to move a similar bill back for a vote this week.

“;We will work over the weekend on this one,”; Taniguchi (D, Manoa) said last week. “;I don't expect it to diverge much from what we passed last time.”;

Citizens groups, however, say the existing bill doesn't go far enough to regulate money given to politicians from corporations.

“;The Hawaii Legislature can and should insert a ban or low limit on corporate contributions to candidates,”; Nikki Love, Common Cause executive director, said.

Hawaii's campaign law now allows corporations to donate directly to candidate, but the new law would require the money to go from the company to a noncandidate committee, or political action committee. The current version of the bill, House Bill 2003, adds a $1,000 limit from a person to a PAC. Currently there is no limit on contributions to a noncandidate committee.

“;The Legislature has attempted to increase or remove this limit throughout the session. In contrast, we believe the law should establish a ban or low limit on money transferred from a corporation's treasury to its PAC,”; said James Koshiba, Kanu Hawaii executive director.

Love says the concern for public interest groups is that the law will be changed to make it more difficult for the public to track money flowing from corporations to politicians.

“;We don't want to be left with no transparency and allowing corporations to donate like people—that would be a real shame,”; Love said.

The bill also has raised concerns in the Senate. Although a similar bill was passed earlier this year, it had 13 senators voting “;with reservations”;—which Love said, shows the bill is still controversial.