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Hawaii News

Firm fights campaign laws

A conservative mainland attorney who has successfully fought federal campaign-spending restrictions on corporations filed suit in federal court in Hawaii yesterday, alleging that Hawaii’s ban on political donations by state and county contractors is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit, filed by James Bopp Jr. of Indiana on behalf of A-1 A-Lectrician Inc., a local electrical and construction firm, asks the U.S. District Court to lift the ban on donations by government contractors before the September primary and November general elections.

The suit also seeks similar injunctions against the state law requiring corporations to register as political action committees before making donations, the political advertising reporting requirements, the political advertising attribution and disclaimer provisions and the $1,000 donation limit to political action committees.

The lawsuit alleges that the state campaign-finance restrictions are unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment’s right to free speech and the 14th Amendment’s citizenship protection of corporations as well as individuals.

"In the weeks before elections, public interest in public-policy issues is at its peak," the lawsuit claims. "At this time, organizations such as A-1 with limited resources can most effectively communicate with the public about, and advocate positions on, issues."

Bopp could not be reached for comment last night. State campaign-finance officials were also not available.

State lawmakers passed the ban on political donations by state and county contractors in 2005 to discourage what is known as "pay to play," where contractors make campaign contributions in hopes of winning state and county bids. The ban came after several campaign-finance scandals involving engineering and construction firms.

This year, lawmakers considered relaxing the ban to only cover nonbid contractors, but the move was opposed by open-government advocates.

"The contractor provision was passed to stop the ‘pay to play’ system," said state Rep. Sylvia Luke (D, Pacific Heights-Pauoa-Punchbowl), who was among the lawmakers who drafted the law. "As we try to instill integrity into politics, this was one of the things that we looked at."

The lawsuit claims A-1, which has government contracts, wants to make $250 donations to several candidates this year but is unable because of the ban. The lawsuit argues that the candidates do not decide whether A-1 gets government contracts or oversee those contracts.

A-1, the lawsuit claims, also wants to donate $2,500 to the Aloha Family Alliance political action committee but is unable because of the $1,000 donation limit.

The Aloha Family Alliance was formed this year and reported receiving no donations through the end of June. Andrew Gerakas, the group’s chairman, said the group intends to back candidates who oppose same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide and abortion and who follow "good moral principles."

The lawsuit also challenges the requirement that organizations seeking to influence elections register as political action — or noncandidate — committees and file campaign spending reports. The law was drafted to provide public disclosure on campaign finance.

A-1 also wants to spend more than $2,000 to take out three newspaper ads in September and October that will identify candidates but will not expressly advocate for their election.

The lawsuit challenges the reporting requirements on political advertising as a burden that will sap A-1’s limited resources. The suit also attacks the advertising attribution provision — which requires that ads disclose the name and address of the sponsor — and the disclaimer provision, which makes clear that the ad was published without the approval and authority of a candidate.


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