Monday, March 02, 2009


By hook or by crook, Karamatsu wants his corporate money

by Larry Geller

It’s only a figure of speech. By hook or by crook, House Judiciary Chair Jon Riki Karamatsu wants access to corporate money. He didn’t succeed in pushing HB539 through, which was intended to open the floodgates for unlimited corporate money to flow into the state legislature.

He doesn’t give up, though, where his own campaign finances are concerned. He’s holding a fundraiser during session, which is itself a questionable practice, since he’s seeking money from those whose measures are still before the legislature and even before his own committee for action.

How so? His fundraiser is not in his district. It’s not for his constituents. It’s downtown, convenient to entertain corporate suits and lobbyists.

Karamatsu Fundraiser(click for larger)

Karamatsu represents House District 41 - Waipahu, Village Park, Waikele. There are plenty of good venues there where $25 donation fundraisers might be held. It would do some local restaurant a bit of good in these hard times, and he would find out what his constituents want from him.

Instead, he’ll be hosting a $150 donation fundraiser at the Bonsai Restaurant at Restaurant Row. It’s obviously not aimed at his constituents. None of them live downtown.

This is reminiscent of Bob Herkes’ similar event last year. His constituents are on another island, yet he held a $100 donation “Breakfast with Bob” fundraiser right on Bishop Street, in the heart of corporate Honolulu.

Not only do these events raise questions about influence, since bills are still pending, but of access. For $150 you get to meet Jon. For $100 you got to hobnob with Bob.

I live near town, but that’s a bit pricey for me. Not so for corporations looking to invest.

Who are these investors? According to, Karamatsu is indebted at least to these broad business categories that filled his campaign coffers in 2004-2006:

Trade Unions, Real Estate, Public Sector Unions, Tobacco companies & tobacco product sales, Lawyers & Lobbyists, Lodging & Tourism, Insurance, Health Professionals, Computer Equipment & Services, Commercial Banks, Crop Production & Basic Processing, Construction Services, Finance, Chemical & Related Manufacturing.

Now, Karamatsu’s website was actually very helpful to me in writing this article. Under the promo for his fundraiser is a list of his bills. Compare it with the above list of his benefactors. There’s “tort reform,” which, if passed, is supposed to benefit health professionals but at the expense of his constituents’ right to recover damages if they are hurt or die through malpractice. There’s land use. Check it out.

There’s even a gambling bill. We’ll have to look at this year’s campaign spending reports when they come out later this year to see if gambling interests came to his fundraiser. Even gamblers invest.

Karamatsu has provided advocates with a great example of why corporate treasuries should not be opened up for unlimited contributions to candidates.

Tonight (Monday) the Finance Committee will be deciding on HB215. It’s likely that language will be inserted into that bill to accomplish what HB539 failed to deliver to lawmakers. If you would like to see corporate money banned from political contributions, please email representatives at and ask them not to use HB215 to increase access to corporate money. Ask for a total ban instead. 22 states and the federal government ban corporate contributions in some way.

Wouldn’t it be better if Karamatsu had to go back to his district to raise money 25 bucks at a time, from the people he represents?


In fairness to Jon Riki, many of his constituents work downtown in blue collar positions or pass through downtown on their way to work in Waikiki. There was absolutely, positively no geographical nexus to the constituency for Bob Herkes to have his $100 breakfast on O'ahu.

What is most unsettling, though, are the irrational, anti-citizen pieces of legislation legislators passionately support. There is no paper trail, no smoking gun, but the bare, naked facticity of representative democracy: borderline individuals who are successful, by hook or by crook, in winning the popular vote of some random and arbitrary sub-group of citizens making all the decisions.

That's true, some may of course work in town and stay around for his fundraiser. But basically, it's out of his district and aimed at the business community. And that's a facticity. (yeah, I had to look it up, never used that word before)

As you rightly point out, though, even if there is a very tenuous geographical nexus with Jon Riki's event, there is clearly no economic nexus as blue collar workers in downtown or Waikiki who buy monthly or annual bus passes are hardly in a position to burn $150 on a two hour event to mingle with their drunken employers and a bunch of politicians.

I give up on the state legislature and administration.

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