Pigs Fly

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:

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.



How to make a good bill bad

VotingBoothFocused on passing term limits for legislators, conservatives are missing the boat as liberal Democrats pass laws to entrench themselves as lifetime lawmakers.  Language inserted into HB2156 (Links: Bill status | Hearing notice) would allow campaign-to-campaign donations up to the allowable limit.  As previously written, powerful liberal Democrats use large campaign donations to buy the loyalty of vulnerable one- and two-term representatives that have small campaign war chests to fund their upcoming reelection.

In addition to buying power and weakening our voices in government (similar to Citizens United decision), this has another chilly effect on democracy – it makes it that much harder for a first-time candidate to unseat an incumbent.

The largest barrier to any person trying to unseat an incumbent is raising enough money for the costs associated with printed materials, signs and mailings.  Campaign insiders from both parties will tell you that any successful legislative campaign requires a minimum of $10,000.  Starting a campaign with anything less is like trying to win the Tour de France with a tricycle.

It’s possible…but…

Many vulnerable Democrats (as of the start of the year) had less than $10,000 in their campaign bank accounts.  The practice of campaign-to-campaign contributions would allow vulnerable representatives to collect $2000 from other election campaigns to finance their own reelection.  So someone like Kaniela Ing could collect $2000 checks from Scott Saiki, Sylvia Luke and Joe Souki and practically double the amount of campaign cash he has for the next election.

By the way, he has done this before and is positioned to do so again this year.

The increase from $6,000 to $12,000 makes Ing that much more difficult to unseat.  The extra $6000 is enough to finance printing and postage of two separate campaign flyers.  Ing should be elected by residents of Kihei to represent them.  The 1st Amendment allows representatives from Makiki, Nuuanu and Kahului to stack the deck against democracy.

In a lesson of “How to make a good bill bad”, House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke inserted  language codifying campaign-to-campaign donations into a “good government bill” – HB2156.  The irony hurts.  While there are many good parts to HB2156 attempts to do many good things, there is something bad and nasty tucked inside this Trojan Horse.  This bill is being heard by the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor on Friday (link to hearing notice).

The real joke that has liberal Democrats laughing is that no one – not even elected Republicans, has noticed this language.  All seven House Republicans voted for the measure.  The four votes cast in opposition all came from Democrats.

To curb lifetime appointments, conservatives rally around issues like “term limits” and fail to look at all the other knobs, buttons and levers that elected officials have to ensure their lifetime appointment.  Massive campaign accounts are one of those knobs, and keeping their cronies or minions in office is another.  HB2156 is the perfect example of how conservative voices appear to have fallen asleep at the wheel.  When this language was heard before the House Finance Committee, only three pieces of testimony were submitted.

Just three.

The ramifications that campaign-to-campaign contributions have on local politics are just as bad as the effects of Citizens United.  Elected officials seeking lifetime appointments are robbing us of our democracy – are we just going to sit idly and watch this happen?



Dark Intentions

From fbi.govA bill (HB329) passed along by the House Judiciary Committee to add transparency in government was killed by House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke a little more than one month into the legislative session.  Analysis into the facts available suggest darker intentions that highlight the culture of pay-to-play politics where lobbyists and fellow elected officials reward junior members with large campaign donations.

While liberal Democrats would like you to believe that the Finance committee did not have enough time to hear the bill, the lights were dark in Room 309 at the State Capitol on Monday, March 2nd.  The Legislature observes a five day recess so that the money committees (House Finance and Senate Ways and Means) can process the numerous bills referred to their committee.  Senate Ways and Means, House Judiciary and House Consumer Protection committees were working hard, but House Finance was taking the day off.  Monday, however, was a lost opportunity to hear good bills like HB329.  Carmille Lim of Common Cause Hawaii commented to Hawaii News Now regarding HB329:

“We feel that this bill will help to alleviate some of the concerns of inappropriate behavior and bribery that could happen during legislative session and when legislators fundraise during session.”

To be clear, HB329 did not die, it was killed – a very important distinction. [1]

If good government was a priority for governing liberal Democrats, they would have made the time for this bill.  HB329 (even in its weakest form) would have banned campaign fundraisers while elected officials made their most critical decisions.  Fundraisers held during the legislative session give the public the impression that elected officials are being rewarded for their votes that are in line with special interests rather than the interests of their districts.

The million dollar question is “Why would Sylvia Luke, as top member of the ruling liberal Democrats, kill a bill that supported the government transparency – the same transparency that liberal Democrats promised in their vacuous House Majority Package?”  We know it is not because she ran out of time – Luke had ample time to ensure that her own bills received a hearing.   If you connect the dots, HB329 was problematic because while it is in the best interests of the public to have transparency in government, it is not in the best interests of Luke, Saiki, Souki or any one of the ruling liberal Democrats.

Five representatives (Ing, Ohno, Lowen, Creagan and Kobayashi) – who did not want you to know the sources of their campaign donations – have been confirmed by Capitol sources as hosting a campaign fundraising event on Wednesday, March 11th from 5-7PM at Ferguson’s Pub [2].  These swanky events are where elected officials host lobbyists and collect campaign donations.  Whether these donations are a genuine sign of support or a reward for “acceptable behavior” will vary on a case-by-case basis.  The intentions in this particular case, however, appear very dark.

As a sign of their contempt for public trust, their fundraising event is held the day after an important legislative deadline called “Third Reading” [3] – a crucial point in the calendar.  In comments to Hawaii News Now, Karl Rhoads noted:

“The amendments that we put in (HB329) were to try to really target the crucial points, the spots in the system where abuse is most likely…”

If representatives truly cared about the perception of trust and transparency, they could wait until a week after the deadline to collect money.  Even better, they could wait until the end of the legislative session.

But in addition to lobbyists and plaintiff’s attorneys (ambulance chasers) flush with money, there is one more special interest group that spends heavily at these events – other elected officials.  Joe Souki, Scott Saiki and Sylvia Luke spend heavily on junior representatives, often giving them the maximum amount allowed within campaign spending limits.  The timing of the fundraiser after the voting deadline appears to ensure that these representatives vote in line with their superiors.  In this respect, Ing, Ohno, Lowen, Creagan and Kobayshi appear less like colleagues and more like minions.

This all comes full circle back to Sylvia Luke.  The transparency and good governance offered by HB329 hamstring her ability to enforce allegiance to her own interests, priorities and pet projects, rather than the interests of they people they represent.  Even Karl Rhoads, whom this blog is often at disagreement with, thought this was a good idea.

As people who are governed by these elected officials, it is our duty to be informed about the people that we elect.  Filings with the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission are online for anyone to inspect.  It is your responsibility to know if your elected officials (both representative and senator) are being bought out by special interests.

What is even more important to know is whether the vote of your own elected official being bought and paid for by another elected official.

Blogger’s note: While HB329 would not have prevented this fundraiser specifically, it would have prevented future events like the Ing fundraiser should the bill have taken effect.  HB329 would have jeopardized the future leadership of the same liberal Democrats.

[1] Imagine the difference between a person dying of starvation and a person dying because food was withheld from them.

[2] As only 48-hours notice of a fundraiser is required, absolute confirmation is difficult to obtain a week in advance.  While the date, time and location of this event were confirmed by Capitol sources, dark intentions might prevail via a change of date or venue. Enemies of good government prefer that the only people who know about these events are the ones with checks.

[3] Every bill must be “read” three times in each of the two chambers in order to advance.  Most bills will receive their third reading on March 10th in marathon floor sessions where they will be debated.