The Sunshine Blog: Bill To Limit Campaign Fund Regifting Turns Into The Opposite - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair and Richard Wiens.


Short takes, outtakes, observations and other stuff you should know about public information, government accountability and ethical leadership in Hawaii.

That’s the ticket: The practice of gut and replace may no longer be allowed in the Hawaii Legislature, but you wouldn’t know it tracing the path of House Bill 727 this session.

What started out as a measure to prevent politicians from regifting their campaign contributions has turned into a bill that would make it easier to do just that.

The original bill, proposed by the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct, contended that donors to political candidates have a right to know that the money will be used for those candidates’ own campaigns. But after dual amendments in the House and Senate, the regifting would be allowed to continue — both to community recipients and fellow candidates.

We’re talking fairly big bucks here.

“In the 2022 campaign reporting period nearly $216,000 was donated to charities, full-time scholarships, public schools, and public libraries,” wrote Janet Mason of the League of Women Voters in testimony supporting the measure.

The Legislature’s judiciary chairs, Rep. David Tarnas, left, and Sen. Karl Rhoads, both amended a measure on regifting campaign contributions that now bears no resemblance to its original form. (Screenshot/2023)

While those might be good causes, “Contributions to community groups are simply ‘seeding the community’ for future votes,” testified Mason, who was also a member of the standards commission that proposed dozens of measures this session to make Hawaii politics more transparent and ethical.

Even more money in the same period — $350,577 — “was devoted to purchasing tickets for other candidates’ fundraisers,” Mason said.

Buying up to two tickets to fundraisers is currently the only legal method for one candidate to donate campaign funds directly to another candidate, as long as the cost doesn’t exceed the limits for all donations of $2,000 for House candidates, $4,000 for Senate candidates and $6,000 for statewide candidates.

The proposed elimination of that ticket-buying allowance was the only part of the bill preserved by the House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee during a Feb. 23 hearing. Chair David Tarnas argued that candidates should still be able to give their campaign funds to charities and schools, etc.

In follow-up testimony, the League of Women Voters said it was “disappointed” and asked that the original restrictions be restored by the Senate Judiciary Committee when it heard the bill March 21. Its chair, Sen. Karl Rhoads, ignored that request before saying he was going to “make a controversial recommendation here.”

Candidates giving campaign funds to other candidates evens the playing field and is “perfectly legitimate,” Rhoads said, because “the fundraising opportunities are not the same.”

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“My recommendation on this one is to get rid of the purchase-of-ticket provision, which has become something of a farce — it’s just very easily gotten around — but what we’ll do instead is just say that a candidate can give no more than $2,000 per election period to any candidate,” Rhoads said in further amending the bill “without objection” from his committee colleagues.

The state Campaign Spending Commission, by the way, also wanted to end the practice of candidates giving campaign funds to other candidates. Its measures to do so, House Bill 94 and Senate Bill 199, stalled this session.

HB 727 lives on, unrecognizable from its original intent. But it’s likely headed to conference committee and who knows what will emerge there. Those discussions are held in secret.

The reform that makes all other reforms possible: Supporters of a bill that would create a comprehensive system of public financing for campaigns are crowing now that Rep. Kyle Yamashita has scheduled it for a hearing just as time was running out.

“The expansion of public financing of elections was a critical recommendation of Speaker Saiki’s Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct created in response to last year’s scandals, and SB 1543 is the only legislation still alive this session that would do that,” said Evan Weber, managing director of the grassroots group Our Hawaii and coordinator of another group, the Clean Elections Hawaii coalition.

House Finance Committee Chair Rep. Kyle Yamashita has agrred to at least hold a hearing on a measure that would put in a place a public financing program for elections. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Weber and his colleagues sent “hundreds upon hundreds of emails and calls” requesting a hearing from Yamashita and also asked to meet with the House Finance Chair in his office at the Capitol.

“All that we’ve heard in response is that they are paying close attention to and tracking the amount of requests they get to hear different legislation, and that factors heavily into their decision,” said Weber.

Senate Bill 1543, which would have the state pay for all qualifying candidates seeking election to state and county offices, is set to be heard by Yamashita — aka Silent Kyle — Wednesday afternoon. (We left a few messages with his office, too, but did not hear back. Sigh.)

Gary Hooser, the former Kauai and state legislator who has aggressively urged support for SB 1543, credits people across the islands for “making those calls and sending those emails. It paid off and now it’s time to double-down, provide supportive testimony, and pass the word to friends and neighbors!”

Hooser added in an email blast earlier this week that some call publicly funded elections “the reform that makes all other reforms possible.”


Read this next:

It's The Committee Chairs, Not The Speaker, That Hold The Power In The Hawaii House


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About the Author

The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair and Richard Wiens.


Latest Comments (0)

House Bill 727 drafted by the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct should not have been tampered with by the folks with their hands in the till. It's past time to eliminate the "games" where dedicated campaign donations are switched by recipients. We also need to get dark money sources out or our elections. Senate Bill 1543 should be passed to move us a better direction.

DEGardner · 7 months ago

There's a point where corruption distributes wealth so unevenly that less affluent citizens are forced to create their own underground economy in order to survive. That in turn severely restricts the government budget as social costs continue to pile up. Bribery and graft are crimes of calculation, not passion. When incentives are large and penalties are light then the decline of the civilization becomes inevitable.

SleepyJoe · 7 months ago

This is a total misstep boys - time to curtail your comments and return to the original issue. How about making the funds have to go to food and shelter insecurity, it’s deepening daily - and with a demonstration village outside across the street from the Lege - well, it will become more real.

Augustus · 7 months ago

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