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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 24, 2005

Let's take another shot at campaign reforms


Campaign spending laws, spotty as they are, do reel in a few political offenders, as the recent case involving Dalton Tanonaka demonstrates.

Yet voters deserve much more. The elections-reform net might be functional, especially in the hands of an aggressive state Campaign Spending Commission, but it certainly has enough holes that still need patching.

Most of the efforts to do so during the last session at the state Capitol fell into the usual legislative black hole. Sadly, that was a missed opportunity, particularly considering that former senator Cal Kawamoto, long considered an obstacle to meaningful reform, had been ousted from office following his own run-in with the spending commission.

The end result was limited to a lackluster law placing restrictions on campaign contributions from those with state or county contracts and from out-of-state donors — both good ideas, but insufficient remedies for the generalized corruption that exists.

The Tanonaka case illustrates, once again, the wisdom of moving toward publicly funded campaigns. The kind of disguised private contribution Tanonaka admitted accepting would have been difficult to prevent under current laws; it only came to light because of an informant within his campaign organization.

There simply are too many loopholes through which a politician can slip fat donations, circumventing existing limits on contributions from individuals.

The governor and lawmakers were at odds this year over the correct approach. Do we apply more radical constraints on elections for statewide, administrative offices, or for the broad array of legislative posts?

This year, in preparation for the next legislative session, state lawmakers must agree on which approach to take so that significant progress can be made. Without it, public faith in a fair, transparent elections process erodes with each passing year.