Hawaii may have gotten good grades in the State Integrity Investigation for having rules that govern how political parties can raise money. But whether those laws are effectively enforced is another story.

The state got a B, or 86 percent, grade for Political Financing. That’s a pretty good grade, earning Hawaii 3rd place among 50 states. Only Connecticut and Rhode Island scored higher. Wyoming came in last.

Yet Hawaii earned a dismal 68 percent on the question of whether campaign financing laws are actually effective. The state gets dinged in part because limits on individual donations to political parties are high.

Overall, the State Integrity Investigation ranked Hawaii 10th after Civil Beat reporters researched 330 “Corruption Risk Indicators” across 14 categories of government. (Click here to learn more about the methodology used for the project.)

Bottom line: Hawaii limits how much individuals can donate to political parties, but critics say the limit is so high it’s practically meaningless.

Here’s the basis for the 65-percent grade that contributed to the overall 86 percent score for political financing. It’s your turn to evaluate whether Civil Beat got it right and to share what you think should be done to improve the situation. Share your comments at the bottom of this story.

Here’s the third question of six the State Integrity Investigation asked about political financing.

Are the regulations governing the political financing of parties effective?

Overall score: 65%

Here are the criteria Civil Beat used to answer that question and what Civil Beat found.

1. In practice, the limits on individual donations to political parties are effective in regulating an individual’s ability to financially support a political party.

Notes: People can make contributions to political parties, but the total limit is more than $25,000 in any two-year election period. Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission so far has not found any violations on existing contribution limits to political parties. Political blogger Ian Lind said people can give as much as they want as long as it is not more than $25,000 in any two-year election period. Lind said the limit is so high that it is meaningless for practical purposes. State Sen. Les Ihara also said the limits for individual donors to political parties are too high.

Sources:

• Tony Baldomero, associate director, Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, 8/18/11, telephone interview.

• Ian Lind, former newspaper journalist, former legislative staffer and former executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, 8/18/11, telephone interview.

• Les Ihara, state Senator, 9/21/11, interview at Honolulu Civil Beat office.

Score: 25%

Scoring criteria: These are the scoring criteria for this question.
Very Strong: Existing limits represent the full extent to which an individual can directly or indirectly financially support a political party. Limits are reasonably low in the context of the total costs of running a campaign.
Fair: Existing limits generally represent the full extent to which an individual can directly or indirectly financially support a political party. However, exceptions and loopholes exist through which individuals can indirectly support political parties above and beyond those formal limitations. Such loopholes could include making donations to third-party groups that advocate on behalf of (or against) a particular party; unregulated loans to parties (rather than direct donations); or in-kind support that is not explicitly regulated by laws or regulations. The limits may be too high in the context of the overall costs of running a campaign.
Very Weak: Existing limits are routinely bypassed or willfully ignored. The vast majority of individual contributions to a political party are made outside of the formal limitation system. There is no enforcement of violations. Limits are so high that they are meaningless in the context of the overall costs of running a campaign.

2. In practice, the limits on corporate donations to political parties are effective in regulating a company’s ability to financially support a political party.

Notes: Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission historically has not found any violations in this area. Kristin Izumi-Nitao, executive director of the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, said she is not aware of a situation during her tenure.

Sources:

• Tony Baldomero, associate director, Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, 8/18/11, telephone interview.

• Kristin Izumi-Nitao, executive director, Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, 10/4/11, telephone interview.

Score: 75%

Scoring criteria: These are the scoring criteria for this question.
Very Strong: Existing limits represent the full extent to which a company can directly or indirectly financially support a political party. Limits are reasonably low enough in the context of the total costs of running a campaign to be meaningful.
Fair: Existing limits generally represent the full extent to which a company can directly or indirectly financially support a political party. However, exceptions and loopholes exist through which companies can indirectly support political parties above and beyond those formal limitations. Such loopholes could include making donations to third-party groups that advocate on behalf of (or against) a particular party; unregulated loans to parties (rather than direct donations); or in-kind support that is not explicitly regulated by laws or regulations. The limits may be too high in the context of the overall costs of running a campaign.
Very Weak: Existing limits are routinely bypassed or willfully ignored. The majority of corporate contributions to political parties are made outside of the formal limitation system. There is no enforcement of violations. Limits are so high that they are meaningless in the context of the overall costs of running a campaign.

3. In practice, the limits on donations to political parties by political action committees are effective in regulating the organization’s ability to financially support a political party.

Notes: Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission has not found any violations in this area. The limits on donations from political committees to political parties is $50,000 in any two-year election period. But political action committees typically aren’t the ones making large donations to political parties, according to political blogger Ian Lind. Companies or individuals give larger chunks of money, according to Lind. Are the limits low enough in the context of running a campaign? Yes and no. In the 2010 election year, in the Hawaii Legislature, winning House candidates spent an average $39,880. Winning Senate candidates spent an average $78,823.

It is worth noting that political action committees can indirectly support political parties via in kind support, which is allowed in Hawaii. Donations of food, entertainment for fundraisers and similar in kind support is permitted.

Sources:

• Tony Baldomero, associate director, Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, 8/18/11, telephone interview.

• Ian Lind, former newspaper journalist, former legislative staffer and former executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, 8/18/11, telephone interview.

Score: 50%

Scoring criteria: These are the scoring criteria for this question.
Very Strong: Existing limits represent the full extent to which a political action committee can directly or indirectly financially support a political party. Limits are reasonably low enough in the context of the total costs of running a campaign.
Fair: Existing limits generally represent the full extent to which a political action committee can directly or indirectly financially support a political party. However, exceptions and loopholes exist through which political action committees can indirectly support political parties above and beyond those formal limitations. Such loopholes could include making donations to third-party groups that advocate on behalf of (or against) a particular party; unregulated loans to parties (rather than direct donations); or in-kind support that is not explicitly regulated by laws or regulations. The limits may be too high in the context of the overall costs of running a campaign.
Very Weak: Existing limits are routinely bypassed or willfully ignored. The majority of contributions made by political action committees to political parties are made outside of the formal limitation system. There is no enforcement of violations. Limits are so high that they are meaningless in the context of the overall costs of running a campaign.

4. In practice, when necessary, an agency or entity monitoring the financing of political parties independently initiates investigations.

Notes: Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission has the authority to enforce the campaign spending law, investigate and conduct random audits. According to the commission, they do extensive reviews of campaign reports when received. For instance, the state Campaign Spending Commission told former Gov. John Waihee in 2001 to explain his reports, which did not match with the Democratic Party reports, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Waihee donated $15,000 to the party, but the commission in 2001 called the report discrepancy an honest oversight, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Sources:

• Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Richard Borreca, 6/9/01, “State questions Waihee spending”

• Tony Baldomero, associate director, Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, 8/18/11, telephone interview.

Score: 100%

Scoring criteria: These are the scoring criteria for this question.
Very Strong: The agency or entity aggressively starts investigations into allegations of wrong doing with respect to the financing of political parties, or cooperates well with other agencies that do. The agency is fair in its application of this power.
Fair: The agency or entity will start investigations, but often relies on external pressure to set priorities, has limited effectiveness when investigating, or is reluctant to cooperate with other agencies in politically sensitive cases. The agency, though limited in effectiveness, is still fair in its application of power.
Very Weak: The agency or entity rarely investigates on its own, is uncooperative with other agencies, or the agency or entity is partisan in its application of this power.

5. In practice, when necessary, an agency or entity monitoring the financing of political parties imposes penalties on offenders.

Notes: Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission monitors the financing of political parties and will impose penalties on offenders depending on the situation. There have been more media reports of political candidates fined for violating campaign finance laws than political parties. According to the Associated Press, the Democratic Party of Hawaii filed a complaint in 2010 with the commission accusing the Republican Governors Association and gubernatorial candidate James “Duke” Aiona for violating state campaign finance laws. However, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported the commission later dismissed the complaint for a lack of evidence. Kristin Izumi-Nitao, executive director of the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, said the commission penalizes as necessary, but mostly tries to get compliance.

The Campaign Spending Commission also levies fines when warranted.

Naeole fined $300; commission dismisses 13 allegations.
West Hawaii Today (Kailua-Kona, HI) – Thursday, February 14, 2008.
Author/Byline: Nancy Cook Lauer, Stephens Media Capitol Bureau.
Section: Local.

http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/InfoWeb?p_product=NRNB&p_theme=aggregated5&p_action=doc&p_docid=124FF6D5EDC31680&p_docnum=9&p_queryname=1

Sources:

• Associated Press, Herbert Sample, 10/23/10, “Hawaii Dems file complaint against Aiona, GOP group”

• Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Derrick Depledge, 6/8/11, “Complaint against Aiona campaign dismissed”

• Kristin Izumi-Nitao, executive director, Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, 10/4/11, telephone interview.

Score: 75%

Scoring criteria: These are the scoring criteria for this question.
Very Strong: When rules violations are discovered, the agency or entity is aggressive in penalizing offenders or cooperates well with other agencies that impose penalties.
Fair: The agency or entity enforces rules, but is limited in its effectiveness. The agency or entity may be slow to act, unwilling to take on politically powerful offenders, reluctant to cooperate with other agencies, or occasionally unable to enforce its judgments.
Very Weak: The agency or entity does not effectively penalize offenders. The agency or entity may make judgments but not enforce them, or may fail to make reasonable judgments against offenders. The agency or entity may be partisan in its application of power and may refuse cooperation with other agencies.

6. In practice, contributions to political parties are audited.

Notes: Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission will audit when there is a reason to believe that an audit is necessary. They use audits as part of investigations.

There have been more media reports of political candidates fined by the commission for violating campaign finance laws than political parties. According to the Associated Press, the Democratic Party of Hawaii filed a complaint in 2010 with the commission accusing the Republican Governors Association and gubernatorial candidate James “Duke” Aiona for violating state campaign finance laws. However, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported the commission later dismissed the complaint for a lack of evidence.

Sources:

• Tony Baldomero, associate director, Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, 8/18/11, telephone interview.

• Ian Lind, former newspaper journalist, former legislative staffer and former executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, 8/18/11, telephone interview.

Score: 100%

Scoring criteria: These are the scoring criteria for this question.
Very Strong: Political party finances are regularly audited using generally accepted auditing practices. The auditing may be regular and comprehensive or only initiated after an initial review reveals irregularities. Auditing includes the auditing of nominally independent financial organizations that act as financial extensions of the party.
Fair: Political party finances are audited, but audits are limited in some way, such as using inadequate auditing standards, or the presence of exceptions to disclosed contributions. Contributions to the political party may be sufficiently audited, but the auditing of nominally independent extensions of the party may not be.
Very Weak: Political party finances are not audited, or the audits performed have no value in tracking contributions. Audits may be performed by entities known to be partisan or biased in their practices.

7. In practice, individuals, corporations, or political action committees do not resort to “astroturfing” — defined here as the financial support of a political party or individual using mechanisms designed to give the appearance of a grassroots movement — to bypass limits on political financing.

Notes: State law §11-352 to §11-356 prohibits false name contributions, anonymous contributions, state and county contractor contributions and foreign national and foreign corporation contributions. It is illegal to contribute and claim it is from another person, according to political blogger Ian Lind. Past instances and prosecutions have occurred, but Lind said it may not be an issue now. But in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, there are concerns that ‘astroturfing’ may pick up in Hawaii, according to Common Cause Hawaii executive director Nikki Love.

According to the Honolulu Advertiser, Mayor James “Kimo” Apana’s 2002 re-election campaign received a total $16,000 in contributions from one engineering firm and three of its family members. The donation limit is total $4,000 per corporation, not $4,000 per each employee, according to the Honolulu Advertiser.

The Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission ordered the campaign to return the questionable donations, according to the Honolulu Advertiser. In another instance, the commission alleged that Thermal Engineering Corp. and its employees contributed excessive donations to Gov. Ben Cayetano’s campaign, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Sources:

• Ian Lind, former newspaper journalist, former legislative staffer and former executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, 8/18/11, telephone interview.

• Nikki Love, executive director, Common Cause Hawaii, 8/19/11, telephone interview.

• The Honolulu Advertiser, Christie Wilson, 9/19/02, “Apana returns improper cash”

• Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Rick Daysog, 2/6/02, “Local firm to pay $31,000 fine for donations to gov and mayor”

Score: 50%

Scoring criteria: These are the scoring criteria for this question.
Very Strong: “Astroturfing” is expressly banned and hence organisations do not resort to “astroturfing” to bypass political finance donation limits.
Fair: While not prevalent, some cases of “astroturfing” occur and are used to bypass political financing donation limits. Exceptions and loopholes exist, which are exploited through “astroturfing” to indirectly support political parties above and beyond formal limitations. Such loopholes could include making donations to third-party groups that advocate on behalf of (or against) a particular party; unregulated loans to parties (rather than direct donations); or in-kind support that is not explicitly regulated by laws or regulations.
Very Weak: “Astroturfing” in political financing is a common occurrence. “Astroturfing” is used to routinely bypass political financing donation limits with little or no enforcement of violations.

8. In practice, the limits on lobbyist donations to political parties are effective in regulating a lobbyist’s ability to financially support a political party.

Notes: The Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission believes limits are high enough for lobbyists. But there are so many other ways in which lobbyists can influence politicians even after they’ve maxed out their own contributions, according to political blogger Ian Lind. They can host a fundraiser and invite all the other people in their network to kick in to a campaign. And until someone puts the pieces together by recognizing names and interpreting campaign spending reports, it’s difficult to track the special interest influence.

Sources:

• Tony Baldomero, associate director, Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, 8/18/11, telephone interview.

• Ian Lind, former newspaper journalist, former legislative staffer and former executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, 8/18/11, telephone interview.

Score: 50%

Scoring criteria: These are the scoring criteria for this question.
Very Strong: Existing limits represent the full extent to which lobbyists can directly or indirectly financially support a political party, or all donations from registered lobbyists or principals are banned outright. Limits are reasonably low in the context of the total costs of running a campaign.
Fair: Existing limits generally represent the full extent to which a lobbyist can directly or indirectly financially support a political party. However, exceptions and loopholes exist through which lobbyists can indirectly support political parties above and beyond those formal limitations. Such loopholes could include making donations to third-party groups that advocate on behalf of (or against) a particular party; unregulated loans to parties (rather than direct donations); or in-kind support that is not explicitly regulated by laws or regulations. The limits may be too high in the context of the overall costs of running a campaign.
Very Weak: Existing limits are routinely bypassed or willfully ignored. The majority of lobbyists’ donations are made outside of the formal limitation system. There is no enforcement of violations. Limits are so high that they are meaningless.

Follow Civil Beat on Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up for Civil Beat’s free daily newsletter.

Comments