Honor amongst thieves

A bill being heard by the House Finance Committee seeks to formalize “vote buying” by powerful legislators.  It is no surprise that the sole introducer of the bill (House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke) readily engages in the practice and uses large donations to her cash-poor colleagues to secure their loyalty.

On average, election campaigns require at least $10,000.  Most incumbents can expect to use in the ballpark of $25,000 to defend their seats from challengers.  Considering that the average freshman or sophomore representative has less than $10,000 on-hand as of the most recent campaign spending report, these cash-starved incumbents are vulnerable.

Luke sees the as win-win situation.  Campaign cash is something that Luke has a lot of these days – more than she knows what to do with.  Vulnerable and cash-poor incumbents are an excellent target to consolidate loyalty and power with the House.  As previously written, Luke regularly donates the maximum allowable ($2000) to loyal soldiers in her group.  This is also reciprocated by other powerful House leaders (House Speaker Joe Souki and and Majority Leader Scott Saiki).

This culture of “vote buying” creates a false majority, where representatives who vote out of line with House Leadership risk losing needed campaign contributions from their more senior and powerful colleagues.  The majority is not linked by liberal or conservative values, but only by their obedience to the same controlling few.  An outspoken and free-thinking incumbent risks losing $6000-$10000 for their next election campaign – almost half of what is needed to wage a successful reelection campaign.

In the House Finance Committee, Luke is looking to change the law (HB1473) and to formalize buying votes. [1]  Afraid that it would raise the ire of good government watchdogs, House leaders paved the path for this bill by removing a scheduled hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.  This bill is being fast-tracked to avoid scrutiny and to discourage public testimony.

As part of a leadership team that once promised transparency in government, Luke and other House Leaders consistently look for new and unusual ways to sidestep the intent of campaign spending laws.  Luke widely subscribes to pork barrel spending (see Kihei High School) and assigns large and lucrative projects according to loyalty – to the exclusion of both minority members and ideologically-different members of her own party.

Additionally, Luke is always looking for new ways to make additional contributions to obedient colleagues by helping to contribute beyond the $2000 limit that campaign spending and ethics laws intend.  A recent fundraiser invited her personal donors to a fundraiser where they were expected to not just donate to her, but to her obedient following [2]:

Luke FR Feb 2016

None of this violates the letter of the law.  However, the spirit was that any particular individual is able to contribute to a candidate up to a maximum.  Anything beyond that can and is construed as an attempt to influence a candidate or elected official.  Luke, and other House Leaders, clearly go above and beyond the spirit of the law, bending it every which way to wring out power from their weaker and vulnerable colleagues.

Campaign spending laws were written to avoid even the impression that corporations or other wealthy individuals are buying influence or even votes from elected officials.  In the same way, wealthy and powerful elected officials are robbing people of their elected voice in government – neighbor island representatives marching to the drum of wealthy and powerful city-dwellers.  Luke’s attempts to bypass the intent and spirit of these laws only fosters more distrust of her, and other powerfully corrupt elected officials.  And yet it only confirms the deepest and darkest suspicions we have of her.


[1] A Call to Arms was never issued on this.  When a bill is introduced solely by Luke, to be heard before a committee that she controls with an iron fist, the bill is expected to pass without regard to public testimony.  No amount of arguments for good government or pieces of testimony can change the heart of someone who has no regard for transparency or public opinion.

[2] I found this in a trash can at the Capitol.  I am guessing the recipient was not impressed.

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