PDHblog This is a place for members of Progressive Democrats of Hawai‘i to express their thoughts, hopes and exasperations about political happenings.

April 9, 2008

Public financing morphed into corporate financing

Filed under: 4Public Financing,HI Politics,SHAPES platform — rachel @ 9:17 pm

When crap like this happens, I wonder why I ever bother to submit testimony on bills. What is the point when legislators can and will change bills to suit their interests no matter what the public says?? A bill that would enact public financing of elections was amended, after all public hearings, to included a provision that would lift the corporate contribution cap to $25,000!!

Here is the deal: HB661 seemed to be the best chance yet for for Hawai‘i to get some sort of comprehensive public financing of elections enacted. From the official description:

Creates a pilot comprehensive public funding program for elections to the Hawaii county council in 2010, 2012, and 2014.

This bill had been left over from last year, when it passed in the House but wasn’t heard by the Senate. This year, the bill was revived and amended to apply only to Hawai‘i County Council races and passed both the JDL and WAM committees of the State Senate. It seemed that all was left was for it to go to conference committee, iron out a few minor differences between the House and Senate versions and then pass it on to the Governor’s desk. I was really hopeful that it was actually going to have a chance this time. Until this.

Yesterday, a “floor amendment” was offered and adopted by the Senate. The most significant part of this amendment comes in section 27 (amended text is underlined):

SECTION 27. Section 11-204, Hawaii Revised Statutes, is amended by amending subsection (b) to read as follows:

“(b) No person or any other entity shall make contributions to a noncandidate committee, in an aggregate amount greater than $1,000 in an election[.]; except that, in the case of a corporation or company using funds from its own treasury, a contribution by the corporation or company to its noncandidate committee shall not exceed $25,000 in an election. A corporation or company shall not contribute any funds directly to a candidate, candidate committee, or party.

Anyone remember the “corporate cap” bill (SB2204) that lawmakers were trying to repeal? Well, after a significant amount of coverage and negative public sentiment , that bill failed to pass (StarBull: 2/27, 2/29, 3/1, 3/5; HonAd: 4/1). So rather than let the issue go for another year, they decided to just insert the language into another bill when the public wasn’t paying attention. That is just wrong.

So now we are left with a bill that would enact comprehensive public financing of elections, which I think is good, yet at the same time would lift the cap on corporate contributions to $25,000, which I think is bad. Beyond just the good/bad aspect… the original intent of the public financing bill was to create a system where a candidate doesn’t have to seek out large contributions at all, corporate or otherwise. So this amendment goes completely against the intent of the original bill. The bill that I thought merited enough importance that I actually took a vacation day from work so that I could go down to the capitol to testify on it.

Why should normal citizens like myself bother interrupting their normal work days to comment on legislation when legislators can do whatever they please with the bills anyway? It is very frustrating.

Larry Geller adds his thoughts on this matter on his blog here.

1 Comment »

  1. In my opinion, this was a very bad, very clumsy move by the Senate leadership. I had heard, early in the session, that there might be an attempt to create a “package deal” whereby both bills would pass: the one for a public financing pilot project on the Big Island and a bill “clarifying” the law and removing the $1000 aggregate cap on a corporation’s campaign contributions.

    And, early in the session, there WERE two distinct bills. As time went on, the House killed the corporate cap bill, largely out of response to public pressure in an election year. But the public financing bill, the so-called “Voter Owned Elections” bill, was scaled down from a statewide program to a pilot project restricted to Council races on the Big Island.

    As someone who has followed this bill, and testified for it at several hearings, I have tired of watching as the Legislature played various games to kill this bill. Last time, the bill started off as only applying to State House races, but it was asserted that it had to apply to the Senate races and to the Governor’s race, despite the wishes of the group, VOter Owned Elections, who had wanted the bill to remain smaller and less expensive by focussing on the House races.

    Voter Owned Elections lobbied the Big Island council members and asked them to seek approval from the Legislature for a public spending option for their council races. Since the bill would no longer apply to the Legislators, and since the dollar amount would be small enough that it could come from the state’s special fund for funding assistance to campaigns, the Legislature no longer had a good reason to object to the bill’s passage. And it appeared to be heading towards the conference committee.

    Now THIS. I am shocked, disappointed and angered.

    Federal law does not allow for corporate donations to campaigns, why should Hawaii’s law allow for it? Already corporate officers receive outlandish salaries, relative to their frontline employees, so they have plenty of money to give from their personal accounts up to the $2000 maximum.

    If the politicians feel the need to take in all this corporate cash, the bill should be decided on its own merits. By linking it to the VOE bill, the Senate is forcing oppponents of corporate campaign funding to make a “Sophie’s Choice.” And now some legislators can oppose the bill with the excuse that they oppose one section, but not the other. Freeing them from public accountability. I think this has effectively killed the bill.

    Had the two bills remained seperate, it may have been possible to have passed both of them. Some people would have supported one of the bills, while opposing the other, but the majority still could have voted for the both. Each side would have been somewhat happy that they got their primary aim, while a bit disappointed, that the other bill had passed.

    While the legislative end result might be the same when both bills are combined in one, the psychology is totally different. Imagine a kid has a pet dog that he loves. The dog is getting old and the parent has decided the dog should be put to sleep to relieve its suffering. The wise parent might take the dog to the vet while the kid is in school and explain to the kid that the dog died in its sleep. After th ekid has grieved a bit, the parent tries to soften the blow by taking the kid to buy a new puppy.

    The same result might be attempted in a different way: the parent tells the kid the dog is too old and has to be put down. If the kid is willing to agree to the dog being killed, the parent will reward the kid with a new puppy. Better yet, the kid is handed the syringe and told to inject the dog himself. The old dog dies and the kid gets a new puppy. Same result. Very different psychology.

    One of the strongest advocates for holding a Constitutional Convention has been Ira Rohter, professor of Political Science at UH. I have not been very supportive of Dr. Rohter’s call for a Con-Con. I have not been persuaded that our Constitution is in need of major restructuring. And I fear the chance that a new Con-Con might put in jeopardy the rights of Hawaiians, gays, women, organized Labor, as well as some civil liberties and environmental protections. I think most progressives and liberals would tend to agree with my reservations. A point that Ira has been making which I believe has generated some support among liberals is that the Legislature is so dependent upon corporate funding that it is unwilling to ever pass out a public financing bill. I had hoped that passage of HB661 would have proven this wrong, but I fear that the opposite is true. If the Legislature is unwilling to pass a stripped down, pilot project that would apply only to the Big Island council races, cost the state no general funds and that has been requested by the Big Island council itself– if the Legislature is too chickenshit to pass this manini public finacing bill, then Ira is right and public financing of elections will only take place through a Consitutional Convention that is NOT CONTROLLED by the same politicians and special interests that totally dominate the Legislature.

    I am speaking out of anger right now, and will have to wait as I calm down to see if this is enopugh to swing me from opposing a Con-Con to supporting one. I do not know that answer yet for myself. But I can guarantee that it will be enough to convince a lot of liberals that it is time to vote FOR a Con-Con when it is on the ballot in the fall.

    And, on a personal level, I feel like I have been played for a suckeer.

    Comment by Bartman — April 12, 2008 @ 1:06 am

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