Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Oral arguments in Tavares vs Wong today

by Larry Geller

Today the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in Tavares v Wong in the Supreme Court courtroom, 417 South King Street, from 10:00 a.m.

The case has great implications for clean elections in Hawaii. It seeks to reverse a Second Circuit Court ruling related to corporate campaign contributions (see Judiciary description below).

In a nutshell, the legislature (some say unintentionally) set a limit of $1,000 on the amount that corporate treasuries can give to all candidates or their committees. This case will decide whether that limit holds.

Advocates and gobs of testimony this past session prevented the legislature from setting grossly higher limits. New legislation would likely have rendered this case moot. Now, it will be up the the Court to decide.

If they reverse the Second Circuit, then the $1,000 aggregate limit could stand. If they affirm it, there will be parties and celebration at the State Capitol.

There is always a question in my mind when cases like these come up as to whether they are being fought as strongly as they should be. You know, like a wrestling match where the fix is in but the audience doesn’t know it. Perhaps there will be some learned commentary after today’s oral arguments.

At least, if there are parties at the Capitol, I hope they don’t drive home under the influence.

Here’s the info from the Judiciary website:

Brief description

Barbara U. Wong (Wong), in her capacity as Executive Director for the Campaign Spending Commission seeks reversal of the Second Circuit Court's declaratory judgment that corporations are permitted to make direct contributions to a candidate or that candidate's committee, up to the limits specified in HRS § 11-204(a)(1)(c) (Supp. 2005).
Plaintiff-Appellee Charmaine Tavares Campaign (Tavares) received a $2,000 campaign contribution from Plaintiff/Intervenor-Appellee Quong Enterprises, L.L.C. (Quong). Wong informed Quong and two other corporations that they had violated HRS § 11-204(b), by making monetary contributions in excess of $1,000. Tavares sought declaratory and other relief and Quong intervened, both alleging that Wong incorrectly interpreted HRS § 11-204. The Second Circuit Court concluded that the language of HRS § 11-204(a)(1)(c) is plain and clear, permitting Quong and the other contributors to make direct contributions to Tavares not exceeding an aggregate amount of $4,000. On appeal, Wong argues, inter alia, that the Second Circuit Court failed to recognize the ambiguities in HRS § 11-204 and that the court's ruling defeats the purposes of the campaign spending law to provide transparency in the flow of corporate contributions and require accountability on the part of contributors and candidates. In addition to the Answering Brief filed by Tavares and Quong, the Attorney General of the State of Hawaiʻi filed an Amicus Curiae Brief highlighting the constitutional implications of this case and arguing that the Second Circuit Court's judgment should be affirmed.


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