Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Not “blistering” enough

by Larry Geller

Corporate money is always on the table for the taking at any level of government here and in other countries. Only the vigilance of  ordinary citizens and the watchdog groups they form prevents outright ownership of our democracy by those who have and are willing to invest the money to buy it.

There is no shortage of reportage and commentary suggesting that the auctioning off of government decision making is already routine. Whether it is environmental issues (mountain-topping, drilling near national forests), the military- or prison-industrial complex, whatever label has been attached, the documentation is out there. Abramoff was caught, but the institution  he was part of continues. We elect our representatives, after which who supports and influences them appears to be out of our control.

Ian Lind criticized my articles on the Judiciary Committee hearings on HB539 bringing back big money into Hawaii politics. Actually, I was quite restrained. There are other video clips and the audio is good enough to understand almost all of what was said. It was a public hearing, and legislators’ words, once spoken, are fair game to use.

This was not a hearing in which legislators listened to testimony both pro and con and asked questions about the merits of a bill placed before them for consideration. As the videos show, it was a rationalization on the part of legislators to increase their access to the money that the current law prevents them from grabbing. The judiciary chair was making the arguments in his own favor.

On the chopping block was a limit of $1000 that was getting in their way. They chopped it.

I’m sorry that Ian resorted to criticizing my communication rather than facing the issue underlying it. It’s like something that married couples do all the time, for example: “stop shouting!” “I don’t like your tone of voice!” which has the effect of deflecting the discussion away from whatever was at its core.

What I hope we might have, in the mainstream press and perhaps our alternative media, is some discussion of whether the legislature should be allowed to give itself unlimited access to corporate influence. That would be a reversal of the responsible legislation that was passed over the many years and a betrayal of advocates who have worked so hard supporting it. We were moving towards clean or voter-owned elections in Hawaii. In other words, let’s address the issue at hand.

When the public gives testimony on an issue I think it’s accepted that viewpoints will vary, that there will be voices strongly for or against, and evidence is presented in support or opposition. The process is designed, in theory, to allow our lawmakers to navigate through the material presented and vote  on the matter before them in the best interests of the people who elected them.

The hearing on February 12 was clearly different. The matter before them was their own interest in gaining access to unlimited corporate money. Starting with the current $1000 limit (still under challenge in the courts) the bill, as introduced, had a $25,000 limit, and in the end, the committee chair removed the limit.

Have a peek at the changes in the description of the bill, contrasted right there on the Capitol website page:

Original bill:

Prohibits a corporation or company from making campaign contributions directly from its treasury to a candidate, candidate's committee,…

Current wording, as amended:

Allows companies to make contributions to candidates or candidate's committees.  Allows companies to contribute an unlimited amount to their…

There it is, unlimited amount. Is that in the people’s best interest? Who benefits?

House and Senate leadership introduced other bills to repeal equalizing funds in current election law. It’s clear that there is a full-court press against clean elections underway. And who benefits?

This is very different from weighing testimony presented on both sides of an issue. For one thing, legislators are considering a law that affects themselves. If they were judges, they’d have to recuse themselves. Instead of receiving testimony, they are giving it.

Since legislators are the beneficiaries of this proposed legislation, it’s very appropriate, I think, to focus on what they say and do as they push these bills forward.

If anyone else has videos they think deserve exposure, please feel free to send them along.

And please consider emailing or submitting testimony yourself on the bills mentioned in the earlier articles. Let your representatives know that supporting any of these bills is to align themselves with corporate money rather than the public interest.



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