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Hawaii must end its shameless pay-to-play practice of allowing people running for elective office to hold campaign fundraisers during legislative session. This is the very same time at which many of them are also acting on legislation and expenditures of great interest to the special interests that donate directly to them.
The fact that top leaders of the Hawaii Legislature promoted a campaign fundraiser for the opponent of the sitting governor during the 2018 session is alarming and enough of a reason to stop this unethical custom.
As Civil Beat reported last month, Senate President Ron Kouchi and House Speaker Scott Saiki (along with the chairs of the respective money committees, Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz and Rep. Sylvia Luke) used their titles in a signed fundraiser request on letterhead for U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.
Hanabusa is challenging fellow Democrat Gov. David Ige in the Aug. 11 primary. A disappointed Ige said the April 4 fundraiser reeked of pure politics rife with backroom dealings.
But the embarrassing intra-party fight went to a new — and far lower — level when, responding to the governor’s objections, Luke later called Ige irrelevant, a crybaby and “a desperate caged animal.”
The language, as reported Sunday in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, is an astonishing rebuke of the state’s chief executive and someone that Luke used to work closely with when Ige was chair of Senate Ways and Means. But the House and Senate are also still considering the state’s $14.4 billion supplemental budget first drawn up by the administration as well as a slew of bills introduced by the governor.
Hawaii voters will decide who they want to lead the state for the next four years. But the Legislature should move to prohibit the solicitation of money by elected officials while the officials are blatantly in a position to hurt or help their contributors. For state lawmakers, the governor and lieutenant governor, that would be during the regular sessions from January until May and during any special session.
In doing so, Hawaii would join about 30 states that already place restrictions on fundraising during session. Some laws apply only to lobbyists and/or political action committees, but others include all persons. Oregon, Alaska and Washington state are among the Western states that have some form of restriction on the books.
Illinois actually bans fundraisers for legislative candidates within 50 miles of Springfield during session, except for those lawmakers who represent that area. In Nevada, contribution restrictions begin 30 days before and end 30 days after session.
States differ in how often legislators officially meet. But the obvious scheme for many of Hawaii’s elected officials is to hold fundraisers during session, usually at places within walking distance of the Capitol, often inside restaurants and bars.
With barely two weeks left in the 2018 session, which concludes May 3, at least 37 of Hawaii’s 76 lawmakers have held fundraisers during session. Some of them held more than one. The legislators also include more than a dozen lawmakers who represent neighbor island districts yet felt it important to ask for money in Honolulu.
Meantime, Ige has held six fundraisers of his own since the new year, and Hanabusa seven. State Sen. Josh Green, a candidate for lieutenant governor, has held nine.
Worse, voters don’t even get a peek at the latest campaign finance reports until just a few weeks before the primary election. There’s no way to know who is influencing lawmakers until too late in the game.
This pass-the-plate exercise must cease, and there is even a bill to make that happen. Senate Bill 813, introduced by Sens. Russell Ruderman, Les Ihara, Will Espero and Gil Riviere, calls for the following:
Prohibits campaign contributions from certain entities to members of the Legislature during the legislative session, for five days following adjournment sine die, and during a special session. Prohibits a member of the Legislature from knowingly soliciting or accepting a contribution from a lobbyist or a lobbyist’s principal during a legislative session, for five days following adjournment sine die, and during a special session. Prohibits fundraisers for any member of the Legislature to be held during any regular legislative session, for five calendar days after adjournment sine die, and during a special session.
SB 813, which received not a single hearing when it was introduced in the 2017 session, would have taken effect Jan. 1 of this year. Instead, it carried over to the 2018 session and technically remains alive.
While it is too late to get a hearing, perhaps lawmakers could use a trick they’ve employed liberally this session and “gut and replace” an existing bill with this language and then pass it during conference committee. In fairness, they should also apply the prohibition to all candidates for state offices, including non-incumbent challengers.
Gut and replace is an unseemly habit too, yet legal. But passing major campaign finance reform in an election year would send a strong message to voters that their representation matters more than mere money.
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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Richard Wiens, Chad Blair, Jessica Terrell and Landess Kearns. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at email@example.com.