Yes, it’s late. I got started on a major tangent and pulled back at the last minute in order to get this under control.
The problem is that the legislative process, and especially the ins-and-outs of campaign law, can be so interesting!
Take the flurry of interest in HB2455, which was intended to clarify the current law’s campaign contribution limits applicable to corporations and other organizations.
The dominant public view appears to be that killing this bill will retain a strict limit that essentially eliminates all contributions made from corporation’s own funds. But that’s not the case. Hawaii law has allowed direct corporate contributions and subjected them to the same contribution limits as individuals. Although attempts had been made previously to ban corporate contributions, they had not succeeded and there was no question about their legality until the Campaign Spending Commission came up with a unique interpretation going into the 2006 election.
I won’t review that tortured logic again here this morning, but will just point out that the commission’s position was overturned by a Maui judge, who found the law allowing corporate contributions clear and unambiguous. The commission is appealing, but the chances of success are questionable at best. So doing nothing means that during the 2008 election, corporations will be able to make contributions up to the legal limit to candidates, although the commission has advised caution as a result of the pending appeal.
A Star-Bulletin editorial today says HB 2455 “would have opened the floodgates to corporate contributions”, but what will happen without passage of HB2455 or its Senate companion? Corporations will still be able to contribute like everyone else up to the limits set by law, which vary according to the type of office a candidate is running for.
So what’s actually been happening with contributions and expenditures in recent years? Here’s a chart of average amounts raised and spent by winning candidates for the state House of Representatives between 1994 and 2006. The top line is the amount raised, while the bottom line is the average amount spent. I have to go back and add the years correctly along the bottom of the chart, but for now you’ll have to just know that the graph starts in 1994 and continues through the 2006 elections.
I was somewhat surprised to see that the average amount raised by winning House candidates peaked in 1996, and will have to go back to figure out what accounts for the drop since then.
What was actually spent, the average amount it actually cost to be elected, has bounced up and down but with a pattern of long-term growth. Although both the amounts raised and spent by the winners both fell modestly in 2006, the campaign year when the Campaign Spending Commission enforced its limit on corporate funds, I wouldn’t say that it was a closing of the “floodgates” when viewed in the context of the 12-year period, and it would be difficult to predict a huge increase with the return of corporate money, at least based on this historical view.