Wednesday…More back and forth on campaign bills, and greet more Kaaawa morning dogs

Campaign spending issues have drawn lots of interest.

Thanks to Bartman for his comment here yesterday. In case you missed it, he wrote:

You made a significant error in your discussion of the Big Island public funding bill. You wrote:

“But the commission points to a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that found this kind of equalizing provision to be unconstitutional.”

This is not correct. It was a Federal court in Arizona which made the ruling. As Della Bellatti pointed out at the hearing, three other federal courts have found the equalizing funds mechanism to be constitutional. Neither the Ninth Circuit nor SCOTUS has weighed in yet.

While I usually agree with him, in this case I’ll take issue to some extent.

While the commission testimony did point to the Arizona case, it made clear that the underlying issue was the Supreme Court’s decision in Davis v FEC. Commission testimony is available online, and attaches the Arizona case being cited.

And that Arizona decision notes the Supreme Court cited a Minnesota case finding equalizing unconstitutional “approvingly while ignoring the conflicting opinions entirely.”

This means (to me, at least) that it would mischaracterize the current legal landscape to say simply that there are 3 courts approving of equalizing while just one court is disapproving, as Bartman seems to be saying.

Senator Les Ihara also responded in an email regarding HB 539 and corporate contributions.

It’s no mystery why good government groups want to keep corporations out of elections. The reasons have been stated in a recent US Supreme Court opinion (Federal Election Commission v. Beaumont), and are paraphrased below. The federal law prohibiting corporate contributions to candidates, directly or through a political action committee, is a constitutional law that seeks to:

• counter the appearance and reality of corruption;

• prevent corporate capital from unduly influencing politics and misusing corporate advantages;

• forestall a threat to political integrity from corporate contributions;

• prevent unfair corporate advantage in the political marketplace, such as incurring political debts from legislators;

• limit the use of corporations as conduits for circumventing contribution limits; and

• protect individual corporate funders from having their money used to support political candidates they oppose.

The supreme court also said the federal ban is not unfair to corporations, because individual members of corporations are still free to make their own contributions to candidates and to their company’s PAC (plus corporate PAC may receive donations from their officers, employees, and anyone else).

If passed in its current form, HB 539 would preempt an expected Hawaii Supreme Court opinion by clarifying a law the legislative believes is an ambiguous. However, good government activists believe the clarification should be made in favor of citizens, not corporations – by prohibiting corporate campaign contributions. The advocates believe corporations already have too much power, and wonder why they should be allowed even more influence.


I don’t disagree with Ihara’s general viewpoint. I do disagree with his assessment that HB 539 would give corporations “even more influence.”

As I’ve argued earlier, the bill establishes a corporate spending limit of $25,000. Without the bill, they are currently allowed unlimited spending from corporate treasuries. In reality, HB 539 is a step towards the future he and advocates say they want. It doesn’t get us the whole way.

The question becomes: Do you reject a big move in the right direction because it doesn’t get you across the goal line? In my view, you keep the ball moving towards your goal and pick up political allies along the way. Others, apparently, disagree. It’s a matter of political judgement.

Anyway, testimony presented on HB 539 is now available.


One response to “Wednesday…More back and forth on campaign bills, and greet more Kaaawa morning dogs

  1. You said: “As I’ve argued earlier, the bill establishes a corporate spending limit of $25,000. Without the bill, they are currently allowed unlimited spending from corporate treasuries.”

    FYI: During yesterday’s hearing the bill was amended by the House Judiciary Committee. They removed the $25,000 cap, instead replacing it with language providing for “unlimited” corporate contributions.

    – What kind of message do you think this sends to the people of Hawaii? This represents a significant step towards removing the citizen from the Democratic process. I’m pretty sure I don’t live in the Corporate State of Hawaii… do you? What do you think Obama would have to say about this? This is simply a blatant, disgusting and indefensible display of the kind of stereotypical political greed and corruption that has made Americans (and especially the people of Hawaii) so disenchanted with their political system.
    Americans have spoken. We want change and a government that represents the interests of us, the PEOPLE, not the interests of money grubbing corporations and the politicians in their pockets. This is absolutely a PR nightmare. These legislators need to get a grip.

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