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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Campaign gift sends a powerful message

Sometimes an action has a subtext that creates a bigger problem than the one it solved.

The example at hand was a $300,000 contribution from U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye's campaign to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a political organization that works to elect Democrats to that body of Congress. This committee has endorsed U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka in his bid for re-election over his challenger, U.S. Rep. Ed Case.

Such a use of campaign funds is not unusual on Capitol Hill, but the amount given the third largest donation the committee received this election cycle and out of the ordinary for Inouye should raise eyebrows. The committee can only directly send $37,300 to Akaka's campaign, but the fact that nearly 10 times that amount came from Inouye can only work in favor of Akaka, Inouye's longtime colleague and candidate of choice.

Even if the committee can't earmark anything close to $300,000 for Hawai'i's junior senator, the infusion of funds certainly will "sweeten" the committee's consideration of Akaka when setting aside dollars for coordinated campaign advertisements and other generalized expenditures.

It gives pause to voters, especially those who are fence-sitters on this race. Key Democratic Party leaders here already have made it clear that they back Akaka, who is working to convey the image of an incumbent seasoned by age and experience and an assertive, independent advocate for Hawai'i.

In an election system driven by high-dollar advertising, the committee's financial support will help Akaka get out his message. But to the extent that Inouye's campaign contribution feels like "piling on" by the party leadership, it also could be a tipping point for voters turned off by the political status quo. Certainly that is the message Case is attempting to convey.

In trying to help a collaborator on many important legislative projects, Inouye might have communicated a message about party control that will cost some votes, as well.