Saturday, November 28, 2015         

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Judge upholds laws on political action committees and ads

A suit challenged requirements of disclosures and disclaimers

By Ken Kobayashi


A federal judge who lifted the $1,000 limit on contributions to political action committees rejected other challenges yesterday to the state's campaign finance laws.

U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright upheld the state law requiring noncandidate political action committees to make certain disclosures, including names of contributors.

He also upheld the law requiring the committees to include disclaimers in advertisements.

Seabright refused to grant the request by challengers Jimmy Yamada of A-1 A-Lectrician Inc., A-1 A-Lectrician and Russell Stewart to issue an injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing those laws.

Seabright set aside the $1,000 limit on contributions earlier this month after the challengers cited the U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United case earlier this year that invalidated limits on corporate independent campaign spending.

But in his 50-page decision yesterday, Seabright noted that the Supreme Court said disclosures on the expenditures permit citizens to evaluate the message by those contributors.

"In essence, corporations are free to speak but should do so openly," Seabright said.

Yamada, A-1 and Stewart filed their lawsuit saying they should be allow to participate in the democratic process without having to register as a political action committee.

Seabright said they were not likely to prevail on those claims.

"A-1 has every right to participate in our democratic process by making its views known and by supporting candidates," Seabright said. "But such participation means it must also comply with Hawaii's valid campaign spending laws.

"Hawaii has a substantial interest in imposing noncandidate committee disclosure requirements on an organization — like A-1 — that actively engages in political activity."

In rejecting the challenge to the requirement that the advertisements have disclaimers, Seabright noted that the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision rejected a similar challenge to the federal disclaimer requirements.

The state law requires that the advertisements say they are published without the approval of the candidates.

The lawsuit by Yamada and the others also challenged the state's so-called "pay to play" law prohibiting political donations by contractors hoping to win state and county bids. But they did not ask Seabright to issue an injunction prohibiting enforcement of that law.

James Bopp Jr., an Indiana lawyer representing the challengers, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Attorney General Mark Bennett said they were pleased with Seabright's ruling. "While this is an important ruling, Judge Seabright's first ruling in granting the preliminary injunction is also a very significant ruling against us," he said.

The judge ruled on Oct. 7 that Yamada and Stewart were entitled to the injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing against them the $1,000 limit on donations. The two men each wanted to contribute $2,500 to the Aloha Family Alliance Political Action Committee before Tuesday's general election.

Seabright later denied requests by state lawyers for a stay of his ruling pending their appeal of the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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