Friday, February 20, 2009


Hawaii legislators lusting for corporate lucre

by Larry Geller

It’s kind of painful to listen while Hawaii state legislators grapple with strong public opposition to their grab for corporate largess.

Their idea this session is to eliminate the contribution limits now in place and let corporations know that legislators are open to whatever they may want to pay contribute. That’s right: big pharma, tobacco, gambling interests, just back the truck up to the basement loading dock and drop it off in small or large bills, your choice.

Looking at the testimony (here and here), it seems that corporations would welcome the chance to buy increase their influence. Current law limits a company’s total contributions to corporate PACs to $1000. There’s a court challenge, which this bill, HB539, would effectively supersede. They must hate that limit as much as legislators do.

In this video, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee dances around and finally concludes,

So, not all corporations are what you think, are like multi-nationals that donate to us, and not all corporations are, how should I say, here in the Capitol all the time.

Gads, what a reminder of the days, just a few sessions ago, when HMSA, HECO and other corporations had “embedded lobbyists,” that is, corporate executives, working side-by-side with legislators as “interns.” Readers of this blog sent helpful leaks that resulted in the eviction of those pests.

So no, they are not in the Capitol all the time anymore, but I suppose it would be nice if they left large wads of money when they do visit.

This short video is even more interesting. I couldn’t believe that a responsible legislator, much less the head of the Judiciary Committee, would invoke the spirit of former state senator Cal Kawamoto as a paragon of nonprofit generosity.

Judiciary chair:

…you guys put pressures so that we have limits as to how much we can give to non-profits, if not, we get busted like Cal Kawamoto.

According to the Honolulu Advertiser (6/7/2006), Sen. Kawamoto was in a heap of trouble when he got “busted:”

Former state Sen. Cal Kawamoto, already the subject of a state criminal inquiry, is also the target of a federal criminal investigation into alleged personal use of campaign funds.

The FBI and the Internal Revenue Service are investigating possible tax violations that carry criminal penalties relating to the former lawmaker's operation of a Waipahu nonprofit he founded, according to two people familiar with the investigation.

Kawamoto set up the nonprofit in 2003 and transferred $130,000 of his campaign funds to it after losing a re-election bid, according to state Campaign Spending Commission records. The Waipahu nonprofit doesn't run any programs of its own but rents out its 9,000-square-foot center on Hikimoe Street to other nonprofits, according to its most recent filing with the IRS.

This Judiciary chair seems to confuse his job as a legislator with that of a philanthropist.

Maybe it’s unrelated, but while the rest of us are worried about our jobs and health care, government does take care of itself and its (corporate) friends. Hawaii state legislators got a 35.7 percent pay raise effective January 1, which I don’t begrudge them, but maybe they should stop there.

Voting to blow the lid off of corporate contributions (the bill was amended to change the $25,000 limit to unlimited) is wrong at any time, but particularly now. We need legislators to pay special attention to our needs in this economic crisis and not bend to the demands of corporate greed. Corporations make an investment by contributing large sums to political campaigns, and they expect a return on their investment.

Speaking of bending to the demands of corporate greed, here’s the vote on this bill so far (we’ll keep you informed on future votes):

2/17/2009  The committees on JUD recommend that the measure be PASSED, WITH AMENDMENTS. The votes were as follows: 11 Ayes: Representative(s) Karamatsu, Ito, Cabanilla, Herkes, Luke, Mizuno, B. Oshiro, Souki, Tsuji, Wakai; Ayes with reservations: Representative(s) Morita; 3 Noes: Representative(s) Belatti, Marumoto, Thielen; and 2 Excused: Representative(s) Carroll, McKelvey.

Thanks to those who responsibly voted “no” on this.

If you don’t think our state government should be turned over to corporate interests, please call your own state legislators and tell them how mad you are about HB539. Tell them to kill this bill dead. You can also email all House members at and all senators at Don’t wait for someone else to send the emails, please help out by sending one yourself.

Or join the “stop the tsunami” action to kill this bill.


I would be so embarrassed if I were Jon Riki, but then again, I'm not. The secret of the corporate funding is that for $100 you too can incorporate. There are no limits on incorporation. Raising the limit just makes the easy of this staggering $1,000 * 10 shell corps = $10,000. $25,000 * 10 shell corps = $250,000.

I think that any corporation that gives much must disclose the name of every shareholder, how much of a percentage of the shares the person owns, and then count the contribution as part of each individual's maximum. Then, every current legal loophole would be closed.

Example: Acme Corp has 500 shares of all class stock. Jimmy owns 100 shares, Bob owns 250 and Myrna owns 150. Acme Corp donates $1,000 to Friends of Willie Maunawili. For purposes of campaign financing, the law would recognize the contribution as $200 from Jimmy, $500 from Bob, and $300 from Myrna.

Now, whether this accounting is combined with the individual's maximum contribution otherwise, or is a separate line so that every individual can double the maximum is perhaps debatable.

This may seem burdensome on corporations. (How does each corporation know the limits of its individual shareholders?) Exactly! And any corporation that violates the limit on behalf of shareholders will forfeit the donation and pay a fine equal to the donation.

Or, they could just keep the $1,000 per corporation limit.

Not a bad idea at all. It would break through corporate "personhood" as well, revealing that there are real people inside.

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