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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Supreme Court ruling can affect Hawai'i

An opinion out of the U.S. Supreme Court this week may add new energy to the thus-far futile effort to ban corporate and union political contributions in Hawai'i.

Unlike many other states and the federal government, Hawai'i allows direct contributions from corporations, businesses and labor groups to candidates. Inevitably, these corporate and organizational contributions tend to drown out the voices of individual contributors.

One of the arguments used against banning such contributions is that it might become an unconstitutional limitation on free speech. That has always seemed to be a somewhat weak argument, since contributions are limited today — just in amount, not by way of source.

The counter-argument has been that corporate and union contributions lead inevitably to corruption or at least the appearance of corruption — an appearance that discourages average citizens from participating in the political process. There is the appearance, if not the reality, of a quid-pro-quo relationship between the governing body and the businesses and labor groups that keep them in office.

In its decision, the Supreme Court made it clear that this possibility — or perception — of corruption gives lawmakers the constitutional right to regulate. The specific question involved a Colorado law that limits the amount political parties can spend in behalf of their candidates. In a 5-4 ruling, the court said the limits are legitimate efforts to prevent corruption or its appearance and are not violations of the First Amendment.

This ruling, while narrowly related to the Colorado case, should give courage to congressional supporters of an end to the soft-money system. And it should encourage local supporters of the effort to end corporate and labor contributions in Hawai'i elections.