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Articles of Interest

New York Times - 17 April 2024 - Inside the Late-Night Parties Where Hawaii Politicians Raked In Money

After the state passed a law barring government contractors from donating to politicians, fund-raising parties showed just how completely the reform effort failed.

Today, Hawaii is reeling from its latest government corruption scandal, with state officials accused of taking bribes from Milton Choy, a prominent businessman who wore a wire for at least a year as part of a deal with the federal government.

But that is just one glimpse of the role money plays in politics here. An examination of Hawaii’s contracting system by The New York Times and Honolulu Civil Beat offers a detailed look at the workings of a state known for favoritism and patronage, a culture where big companies with ties to politicians have historically dominated.

“Pay-to-play is woven into the DNA of the statehood of Hawaii,” said Camron Hurt, director of Common Cause Hawaii, a watchdog group. He pointed to the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom that led to an “oligarchy” of businessmen, sugar barons and large landowners lasting decades.

Insights on PBS Hawaii (YouTube link) - April 12, 2024 - Public Financing for Elections: The Pros and Cons

Money plays a big part in political campaigns, commercials, ads and even those yard signs – they all come at a cost. A cost that discourages  many people from running at all. But what if campaigns were financed by tax dollars.

Camron Hurt, Common Cause Hawaii’s Program Manager is cited in this YouTube video advocating for public financing, a bill moving through the Hawaii State Legislature.

Hawaii News Now - December 08, 2023 - Maui mayor’s enhanced security detail could be paid for using federal, wildfire fund

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen was provided extra security in the weeks after the wildfire, but not from his own jurisdiction. The Maui Police Department was never asked by the county. Instead, state investigators were flown in from Oahu to protect him. The six-week detail started on August 23, as Bissen was taking heavy criticism for the county’s response to the August 8 wildfires. The four investigators, two from the Attorney General’s Office and two from the Public Safety Department, were “stationed at the mayor’s office and also accompanied him to public events,” said a county spokesperson in a statement to HNN Investigates.

The estimated cost for overtime and travel expenses for the detail is $110,000, though PSD said they were still tallying the bill. A spokesperson for PSD said the deployment was the result of “a verbal request from the Maui Mayor’s office”. But the Maui County spokesperson contradicted that in a statement that said, the detail was “offered and extended by the state to the Mayor”. Nothing was done in writing, according to both agencies. PSD said it’s covering the cost upfront, meaning state taxpayers are paying. But the department will “request reimbursement through the federal government funding related to the Maui wildfire response.”

That’s money meant to help fire victims. “I’m initially heartbroken. And then I’m instantly enraged,” said Camron Hurt of Common Cause Hawaii. “Every dollar counts, $100,000 could easily easily be somebody’s rent for possibly the next year.”

Honolulu Civil Beat - October 12, 2023 - The Sunshine Blog: Blangiardi Builds His War Chest - Mother's Milk

Just two months ago Civil Beat reported that Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi had only raised a modest amount of cash for his 2024 reelection. He said at the time that he was concentrating on governance and had made only a handful of appearances at campaign fundraisers. He held only two fundraisers during his first year in office and none in 2022. But His Honor has picked up the fundraising pace since then, including holding two fundraisers in early Septemberand just last week. Both took place at Blangiardi’s home, and both suggested a contribution of up to $4,000 per donor. We won’t know who or what gave how much to the mayor until Jan. 31, the next campaign finance disclosure reporting deadline.

Common Cause and a coalition of groups (including Fair Count and League of Women Voters) on Wednesday released a report card on how the 50 states did with their 2020 political redistricting process.Only California and Massachusetts earned an A- on the Community Redistricting Report Card, and no state received a grade of A. But Hawaii got a B- along with a few other states.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Sunday, April 02, 2023: ISLAND VOICES: Support Senate Bill 1543, the most significant public financing bill currently being considered throughout the nation.

In this Island Voices letter to the newspaper, Heather Ferguson, director of state operations for Common Cause, cites the important reasons for the Hawaii State Legislature to pass Senate Bill 1543, which proposes a statewide public financing program for elections. This legislation is a critical step toward ensuring that every voter’s voice is heard, regardless of financial resources or corporate connections.  The bill is running the gauntlet of several legislative committees which need to vote in support of it having a vote by the legislative body. Your showing support for this bill via testimony submitted on the Capitol Website or contacting your representative directly is strongly encouraged.

To read the entire Honolulu Star-Advertiser Island Voices article, click here.

Hawaii News Now - August 04, 2022 - Experts say union’s big spending could influence LG’s race

The Hawaii Carpenters Union political action committee is about to set new records in election spending. And the influx of cash could influence a very tight lieutenant governor’s race, experts say. The PAC — called Be Change Now — reported it spent $3.7 million on ads for the primary election with roughly $700,000 pending. Much of the money is aimed at keeping candidate Sylvia Luke out of office.

Be Change Now is funding attack ads against Luke, supporting her closest competitor Ikaika Anderson, who was endorsed by the Carpenters Union.

Experts said the union could sway the outcome with their financial force. “Because there are no big policy differences. And it’s also about who you trust. What negative advertising can do, whether it’s fair or not, is just put that sense of doubt in the minds of voters.”

Common Cause Hawaii, a non-profit dedicated to honest politics, said there needs to be more transparency with PAC and regulation of their influence over candidates. “So this is actually incredibly disturbing that the PACs and super PACs are muddying the waters and changing the dynamics of the elections in Hawaii,” said Sandy Ma, the executive director of Common Cause.

Honolulu Civil Beat - July 15, 2021 - Community Voice - The Legislature Just Reduced Transparency In Hawaii Elections

The Community Voice in this article is that of Sandy Ma, Executive Director of Common Cause Hawaii.

The Hawaii Legislature’s hasty override of Gov. David Ige’s veto of Senate Bill 404, relating to electioneering communications, is bad policymaking. SB 404 will reduce transparency in Hawaii’s elections and further erode the people’s trust in Hawaii’s political process and our elected officials.

SB 404, when it moved through the 2021 Legislature, received relatively little attention; it was a housekeeping administrative measure. The Legislature took the opportunity, on its own against the testimony of good government groups and watchdog agencies, to amend SB 404 to eliminate disclosures that must be made by candidates and reduce disclosures that must be made by special interest groups, or PACs and SuperPACs.

The result of the Legislature’s veto override of SB 404 is that the public will not know who is trying to influence their vote — which candidate or special interest group is telling them to vote for or against a candidate in the critical period right before an election.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - March 19, 2021 - Hawaii moves to allow campaign funds to be used for child care

Hawaii lawmakers are considering making it legal for candidates running for political office to tap their campaign donations to cover child care costs. Senate Bill 597, which has sailed through the Senate and passed the House of Representatives’ Government Reform Committee on Wednesday, is part of a growing national movement to make it easier for parents of young children, and women in particular, to run for office.

“We don’t think that people who have young dependent children or dependent family members should have a harder time campaigning and running for office and we think this bill will level the playing field,” said Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, which advocates for open and transparent government. She told lawmakers that the bill would help create elected bodies that are more representative of their constituents.

Honolulu Civil Beat: Aloha Stadium Deal Panned By Watchdog Groups

Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii decry gut and replace bill.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Councilwoman’s use of city funds to pay PR firm is scrutinized

Honolulu City Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi is using her taxpayer-funded Council contingency account to pay a Honolulu public relations and advertising firm for community and media outreach and marketing.

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