Friday, April 03, 2009


Whack-a-Mole at the Hawaii State Legislature--$25,000 corporate campaign limit pops its head up at last

by Larry Geller

Wack-A-Mole at the Hawaii State Legislature

Here it is, folks. Someone with sharp eyes has found where the legislature has stuck a $25,000 limit on corporate contributions for themselves. I’ll recap the issue in a moment, but first I want to celebrate a great bit of detective work.

Check it out. Deep, deep in HB128, HD1 proposed SD1, is the $25,000 cap. You gotta be really dedicated to find stuff like this. This is a humongous bill, and I’ll bet most people fall asleep somewhere around page 15. But the limit is about halfway in, on page 54 of a total of 97 pages. It might have easily slipped by.

HB128 Page 54

This bill is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, April 7, 2009, at 9:30 a.m. in conference room 016 by the Judiciary and Government Operations Committee, chaired by Senator Brian Taniguchi. It’s very easy to submit testimony—see the bottom of the hearing notice. You just go to that web page and zap your testimony to them. I hope you’ll say a few words about stopping this.

If you’ve been following the ongoing scandal at the State Capitol, you know that the current limit is $1,000 and that it is being challenged in court. You also know that the House Judiciary Committee Chair Jon Riki Karamatsu tried to line legislators’ pockets with a $50,000 limit, but was forced to take back the bill when embarrassed on the House floor. He had been caught on video saying that he wanted to use the money to make charitable contributions.

Why was he embarrassed? I’ll quote David Shapiro’s February 25 column. Shapiro nailed Karamatsu for resurrecting Cal Kawamoto in Feeding off corporate campaign donations:

Karamatsu invoked fond memories of discredited former Sen. Cal Kawamoto, who was cited by the Campaign Spending Commission for buying votes with charitable donations, among other violations, and then tried to pass legislation limiting the commission's oversight of legislators.

"You guys put pressures ... on how much we can give to nonprofits. If not, we get busted like Cal Kawamoto," Karamatsu griped. "Every time we're getting sex-abuse fundraising letter and domestic violence fundraising letter ... He helped all these kids, and he got blasted for it. You're tying our hands on what we can do here."

Voters got tired of Kawamoto's campaign spending shenanigans and gave him the boot in 2004 by a huge margin.

So how do legislators respond to this clear message from voters? They put Cal Kawamoto Jr. in charge of the Judiciary Committee to try to legitimatize the unethical practices Kawamoto was booted for.

After this, the bill was recommitted (check out the video).

But advocates expected some kind of high limit to pop up somewhere, just like the well-known Whack-A-Mole game. The only question was where would sneaky legislators try to hide it.

A “Stop The Tsunami” campaign started to educate the public on the campaign contribution issue. For example, most people may not know that the contributions that Hawaii legislators want to allow are prohibited in about 21 states and by the federal government. [hint: check out their website. There is a new video contest going with prizes for the winners.]

Along the way, a House Finance committee member was heard to say in front of a live mike, “We need more money.” You can hear it at the end of this video.

Heck, times are hard. Who can blame legislators for trying to take care of themselves and their favorite charities? Who can blame them for wanting to cozy up to corporations that, unlike most of us, still have money to hand out?

Well, we’re not going to get clean elections in Hawaii if we let the legislature reverse all the gains that have been made over a decade of work by legions of advocates. Campaign finance reform is the one reform that makes all others possible.

It’s up to us to literally stop the tsunami of money that will destroy any chance of keeping our lawmakers responsible to us voters.

So please go to the hearing notice above, write something, and zap it to them. If you’d like to win one of the gift certificates, dust off your camera phone and submit a video to the contest. Call your state senator and say “Gotcha! We found it!”, and insist that you don’t want this bill passed with the $25,000 corporate limit. Or email all senators at

Thanks to the person who discovered this. Please keep the info coming.

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