Monday, March 02, 2009
Governor’s aide’s Freudian slip: whether legislators should be arrested
by Larry Geller
It was a cold night outside the State Capitol in Honolulu on Friday, but inside it was snowing. The House Finance Committee remained in session until about midnight. The mainstream press had already gone to bed, but there was still news to be had. Legislators needed to somehow justify blowing the lid off corporate campaign contributions and killing the Big Island publicly funded election pilot project.
The committee heard testimony on two campaign finance bills, HB215 and HB345 (the last bill derails the Big Island pilot project passed last session by delaying it to 2014). Later they did pass the bill to delay the Big Island project.
Except for testimony from government entities, it’s clear that the public still backs keeping limitations on corporate financing. What’s our poor government to do? Well, holding testimony and decisionmaking close to midnight on a Friday is one way to keep the debate out of public view.
Desperate times lead to desperate moves. Governor Lingle’s senior policy advisor Linda Smith testified against the limits. In the video below, she talked about corporate contributors investing in legislators. Hey, Linda, that’s what we’ve been saying all along. Thank you! And corporations expect a return on their investments, of course. Corporations are not philanthropic organizations. They spend money to make money. Like you said, they invest in lawmakers.
It’s different for private individuals who drop maybe $25 at a neighborhood fundraiser for their local representative. The only material gain they realize for their 25 bucks is some noodles and fried chicken and sometimes the chance to meet their representative’s family and office staff.
Ok, the video. I left all the context in, though to most viewers it won’t be interesting. Smith talks about investments towards the beginning, and then near 3:55 (you can move the slider along) is her slip.
It was late, and maybe Freud intervened (Freudian slip: –noun (in Freudian psychology) an inadvertent mistake in speech or writing that is thought to reveal a person's unconscious motives, wishes, or attitudes). But this is what I heard, and what I think she really said (emphasis mine):
.. And that’s what the whole campaign spending commission is about, and all of the campaign spending laws. It’s about transparency. It’s saying, wherever you get your funds from, report it. And if you report it, you’re giving the public the opportunity to make a judgment about each one of you as members around this table, as members of the legislature, whether or not they feel you should be arrested, uh, re-elected.
Listen and see what you think she said. Notice also that Smith actually dropped the “C-word” that you don’t expect to hear in testimony on campaign contributions: Corruption. Sure, on the blogs we talk about the corrupting influence of huge corporate contributions all the time. But we don’t usually confront legislators themselves with that word.
This isn’t Illinois, it’s Hawaii. At the Legislature, we don’t talk about investing in our elected representatives, or suggest that taking corporate contributions might be corruption, or about arresting them, not right there in front of them.
I hope they were listening to Linda Smith, though, she made some great points that support keeping the current limits in place or eliminating corporate treasury contributions entirely. Thank you, Linda.
Of course, the Lingle administration objects to corporate limits. Lingle depends on big fat cat donors, and the corporate limit has been a thorn in her side. If I’ve got it right, her 2006 re-election campaign received $1,064,064 in 941 corporate donations. Of that total, 90% was raised before the $1,000 corporate donation limit took effect, and 10% was raised after, in the last 11 months before the November 2006 election. This is in addition to 2004 and 2005, 644 corporate donations totaling $960,629, and 2006, 297 corporate donations totaling $103,435.
If you need some convincing on why corporate campaign contributions should be banned totally, not unleashed, here’s a snippet from the Common Cause Hawaii web page:
Six Reasons the Federal Government Bans Corporate Campaign Donations*
1. prevent the appearance and reality of corruption
2. prevent a threat to political integrity from corporate contributions
3. prevent corporate capital from unduly influencing politics and misusing corporate advantages
4. prevent unfair corporate advantage in the political marketplace, such as incurring political debts from legislators
5. prevent corporations from use as conduits for circumventing individual contribution limits
6. prevent individual corporate funders from having their money used to support political candidates they oppose
*: This federal prohibition, codified in 2 U.S.C. §441b, has been consistently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which outlined the reasons for the ban in Federal Elections Commission v. Christine Beaumont et. al. (2003)
The committee unanimously passed HB345 to delay the Big Island pilot project to 2014. Votes were as follows: 15 Ayes: Representative(s) M. Oshiro, M. Lee, Aquino, Awana, Choy, Har, Keith-Agaran, Nishimoto, Sagum, Wooley, Yamashita, Ward; Ayes with reservations: Representative(s) Brower, C. Lee, Pine; Noes: none; and 2 Excused: Representative(s) Coffman, Tokioka.
Decisionmaking on HB215 is deferred until Monday at 5:45, but we don’t know what they are going to do with that bill. It’s possible that House leadership could amend it to remove any limits on corporate contributions. If you want to let them know what you think of that idea, here’s the contact list for committee members:
If you would like to weigh in and tell House members not to delay the Big Island clean elections pilot project, contact your own representative, or reach all of them with this email: email@example.com.
Again, I think we owe a vote of thanks to Linda Lingle’s senior aide Linda Smith for acknowledging that corporate contributions are investments, and for her great testimony inadvertently supporting what advocates have been saying all along.