Court equalizes Hawaii corporate, individual campaign donations

By Legal News Line | May 23, 2007

Mark Bennett

HONOLULU -- A Hawaii court has ruled in favor of attorney general Mark Bennett's stance in a two year dispute over corporate campaign-donation limits. Bennett and state legislative leaders have long argued that a 2005 campaign finance law was not intended to restrict corporations to total of just $1,000 per state House election. And Maui Circuit Court Judge Joseph Cardoza, in a lawsuit brought by Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares's campaign against the Campaign Spending Commission (CSC), has agreed, today's Honolulu Advertiser reported. The changed law restricted campaign donations from Mainland contributors but also (apparently inadvertently) limited the amount companies could donate to corporate PACs to $2,000 per election cycle - primary and general. Individuals can still give a maximum $4,000 per cycle. CSC Executive Direcor Barbara Wong last year warned a Tavares corporate donor that gave $2,000 to her primary campaign that it may have violated the new law. She argued the donor should have formed a PAC that was limited to giving Tavares $1,000 only for the primary. But the Tavares campaign sued, arguing that the donor could, like individuals, give the Tavares primary campaign $2,000 directly without forming a PAC. Bennett's office, although officially representing the CSC, filed a friend-of-the-court briefing in agreement with Tavares' campaign. Its brief called the CSC's interpretation of the law "palpably erroneous." Threats to repeal the 2005 law during the 2006 legislative session never materialized.

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