Hawaii Lawmakers May Limit Their Own Political Fundraising

Last year, lawmakers banned fundraisers during the legislature. This time they can completely ban campaign donations during sessions.

Elected officials in Hawaii, including state legislators, may soon be barred from accepting campaign contributions while the legislature is in session.

The House Judiciary Committee took another step Wednesday to remove the perceived influence of money on Hawaiian politics.

The committee voted unanimously to move forward House Bill 89, which would prohibit all elected officials — including the governor, lieutenant governor, state legislatures, trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, county mayors, council members and state attorneys — during regular or special sessions of the state parliament.

The ban extends to weekends, bank holidays and break days when the legislature is in session, which usually lasts from the third week of January to the first week of May.

“We believe you are taking the necessary and necessary steps to ensure that this is the house of the people, that transparency and accountability are paramount, and that we, the public, can trust you as elected leaders,” says Makana Paris, Analyst for the Ironworkers Stabilization Fund, told lawmakers during a hearing on HB 89.

A key House of Representatives committee voted Thursday to ban political donations during the legislative session. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Last year, lawmakers banned fundraisers from being held during the session. Still, in an election year, lawmakers managed to raise more than $500,000 to support their campaigns.

Paris urged lawmakers on Thursday to go one step further and criminalize violations of the ban on donations.

But Gary Kam, general counsel for the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, said there could still be criminal penalties if a lawmaker accepting money is grossly negligent.

Kam told representatives that if they received a check for their campaign during a legislature, they would have to return that check. They also cannot keep the check until after the meeting, as state regulations state that donations must be deposited within seven days of receipt.

HB 89 was tabled by the Campaign Spending Commission, but a similar bill was also part of a package of proposals by the commission to improve standards of conduct the House convened last year following the indictment of two former lawmakers in a bribery scandal. At least four officials have been implicated in corruption cases so far.

More information

Civil Beat is closely following anti-corruption and government reform laws this year. Catch up on our Let The Sunshine In special commentary series and use our Sunshine Bill Tracker to follow the legislative action for yourself.

At least 15 other states prohibit contributions to legislators in any form. In October, the Special Commission voted to introduce a measure that would ban campaign contributions during the session. This measure was one of 31 recommendations that came from the commission.

House Judiciary Speaker David Tarnas said he intends to hear all of the commission’s bills, including those that may overlap with measures the committee has already passed.

The committee also advanced House Bill 94, which fills a loophole that allowed candidates to donate to each other’s campaigns by purchasing tickets to their fundraisers. This bill also mimics a similar proposal put forward by the Standards Commission in its package.

Both measures only need to clear the final votes in the House of Representatives before moving to the Senate.

Gov. Josh Green said on the opening day of the Legislature that he will sign off on any transparency measures that come to his desk.

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