Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Tavares v Wong set for hearing before Supreme Court on June 17

by Larry Geller

This is the case that could determine whether corporations can give only $1000 in total to all candidates or their committees, or whether that interpretation of the law will remain overturned. The case is Charmaine Tavares Campaign v. Barbara Wong in her capacity as the Executive Director of the Campaign Spending Commission. A judge on Maui killed the limits, and this is the appeal.

This past legislative session, advocates and supporters (including you, thanks for emailing legislators!) successfully prevented the legislature from drastically increasing that limit to $25,000 or even $50,000. So the status quo remains. The Tavares case could change that, though, if the Court finds for the plaintiff. I’m afraid that they very well might. It’s going to be a tough fight. Another variable in this is just how strongly the defendant will stand by that $1000 limit.

The case will probably hinge on legislative intent. That is, did the legislators really intend there to be a $1000 limit as the law had been enforced, or did they make a mistake? The Court’s ruling will determine whether legislators can go after lucrative corporate contributions, and that’s clearly related to who our elected officials feel responsible to, we who voted for them, or the corporations who vote with their money.

I’ll have to admit to having a bad feeling about this. It’s just not like our legislators to set such a low limit on themselves, speaking generally. We’ll have to see what the Court decides.

Oral arguments are generally posted on-line. They will appear here if they are posted.

Hawaii’s Supreme Court is a great old building, if you’d like to come down and check out the hearing in person. It is currently scheduled to start at 10 a.m. on Wednesday June 17. Best to get there a few minutes early.


OTOH there is precedent in the recent past for inadvertent legislation carrying the force of law. This last session the Lege managed to screw up the tobacco taxes, and they and the State are treating it as law, surely they didn't INTEND to screw that bill up

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