Late last week, the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor did something unheard of in recent memory – it removed ethically and morally corrupt language inserted by another legislator. In decision-making on HB2156, the committee chair Gil Keith-Agaran removed language that was both introduced and reinserted by Sylvia Luke (see Honor Amongst Thieves and How to Make a Good Bill Bad) that would have allowed vote-buying amongst lawmakers.
While I tip my hat to Keith-Agaran for doing the right thing, recognition goes to the several individuals who took the time to submit testimony in opposition. Of eleven pieces of testimony, ten were in opposition to the bill specifically due to offensive language inserted by Syliva Luke. Good government groups, like Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters, were also in attendance and lent considerable weight to the opposition.
The offensive language would have permitted contributions from one campaign to another. This most frequently takes place between better funded and established campaigns and younger, cash-poor campaigns. This would result in:
- buying of votes by senior members who have more power and more money in their campaigns, but also
- raises the money threshold for first-time candidates to compete against established incumbents.
The latter is particularly important since first-time candidates have a very difficult time raising money necessary to wage competitive campaigns against incumbents. While public financing for election campaigns is available for this specific purpose, it is expected to dry up within a year or two.
As submitted in testimony from the League of Women Voters:
Donations of surplus campaign funds to other candidate committees is easily construed as a form of vote buying. Even when no votes are needed in a current election cycle, they probably will be in future elections or in future legislative sessions if the incumbent competes for office and especially if the incumbent is successfully elected.
It is important to note that the battle is not over. This language still exists in the House version of the bill HB2156 HD2 and could resurface during conference committee. If Sylvia Luke needs this language badly enough to consolidate her power base for the coming election, insiders expect her to leverage her power to ensure it finds its way into law.
The real message, however, is that submitting testimony does matter – and it can make a difference.
A BIG difference.