Last year, legislators banned fundraising events during legislative session. This time, they may ban campaign donations during sessions entirely.

Elected officials in Hawaii, including state lawmakers, may soon be prohibited from accepting campaign donations while the Legislature is in session.

The House Judiciary Committee took another step Wednesday toward chipping away at the perceived influence of money in politics in Hawaii.

The committee voted unanimously to advance House Bill 89, which would prohibit all elected officials — including the governor, lieutenant governor, state lawmakers, trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, county mayors, councilmembers and prosecutors — from soliciting or accepting donations during regular or special sessions of the Legislature.

The ban extends to weekends, holidays and recess days when the Legislature is in session, which usually runs from the third week of January to the first week of May.

“We believe you are taking necessary and needed steps to make sure that this is the people’s house, that transparency and accountability is at the forefront, and that we the public can trust you as elected leaders,” Makana Paris, an analyst for the Ironworkers Stabalization Fund, told lawmakers during a hearing on HB 89.

A key House committee voted Thursday to advance a ban on political donations during legislative sessions. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Last year, lawmakers banned the practice of holding fundraisers during session. Yet, in an election year, legislators still managed to raise more than $500,000 to help out their campaigns.

Paris asked lawmakers to go a step further on Thursday and attach criminal penalties to violations of the fundraising ban.

But Gary Kam, general counsel for the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, said that criminal penalties could arise anyway if there’s gross negligence on the part of a lawmaker who accepts money.

Kam told the representatives that if they receive a check meant for their campaign during any legisaltive session, they would need to return that check. They also aren’t able to hold on to the check until after the session because of state rules that say donations must be deposited within seven days of receipt.

HB 89 was put forward by the Campaign Spending Commission, but a similar bill was also part of a package of proposals by the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct, which the House convened last year following the indictments of two former lawmakers in a bribery scandal. At least four public officials have so far been caught up in corruption case.

More Information

Civil Beat is closely monitoring anti-corruption and government reform legislation this year. Catch up with our special commentary series, “Let The Sunshine In,” and use our Sunshine Bill Tracker to follow legislative action yourself.

At least 15 other states ban contributions to lawmakers in some form. In October, the special commission voted to introduce a measure that would ban campaign donations during session. That measure was one of 31 recommendations that came from commission.

House Judiciary Chairman David Tarnas said that he intends to hear all of the commission’s bills including those that may overlap with measures the committee already passed.

The committee also advanced House Bill 94, which closes a loophole that allowed candidates to donate to each other’s campaigns by buying tickets to their fundraisers. That bill also mimics a similar proposal put forward by the standards commission in its package.

Both measures just need to clear final votes in the House before moving to the Senate.

Gov. Josh Green said on the opening day of the Legislature that he would sign any of the transparency measures that come to his desk.

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