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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Legislators must revisit election finance reform

In her inaugural speech Monday, Gov. Linda Lingle appropriately called for a new level of honesty in the awarding of government contracts.

That calls for an open system based strictly on merit. An important first step in this reform is to revisit the Legislature's effort last year to sever the nexus between political donations and government contracts.

In the last session, Gov. Ben Cayetano vetoed a bill that would have banned direct political contributions by corporations, labor unions and government contractors to county and state elected officials who issue contracts.

Cayetano said he vetoed the otherwise commendable measure because lawmakers amended the bill to exempt themselves from its provisions. There's no excuse not to pass a better version of the bill in the coming session.

But a good bill separating contributions from contracts may not go far enough.

The ultimate reform is public financing of campaigns, which would provide qualifying candidates with a competitive amount of public funds to run for office.

Two years ago, the Legislature unwisely defeated a test of this idea for the City Council. We hope Democratic lawmakers will feel sufficiently chastised by Lingle's election showing to create a more reform-minded atmosphere in the next session.

Good companies shouldn't have to suck up to politicians to get public contracts, and taxpayers should be comfortable that they're getting the best deal for their dollar. An intelligent reading of popular sentiment by Lingle and by lawmakers should make that happen.