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Hawaii News

Judge to block political gift limit

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A federal judge will issue an order overriding the $1,000 limit on contributions to a political action committee from two people challenging the state campaign finance law.

U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright said Friday he would grant the request by Jimmy Yamada of A-1 A-Lectrician Inc. and Russell Stewart, who are challenging the limit as well as other provisions of the state law.

State attorneys indicated yesterday that although they have not made a final decision, they will probably appeal Seabright’s ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The scope of the decision and its impact were not clear yesterday as the state and lawyers for the two men and A-1 were trying to agree on proposed language of the order for the judge to consider.

If they cannot agree, each side will submit its own draft to Seabright.

One issue is whether the order would apply only to the two men or other contributors to noncandidate committees.

Seabright’s ruling is not expected until Thursday at the earliest.

The lawsuit challenged the state laws based on the U.S. Constitution’s First and 14th amendments’ protections. The suit suggests that the laws unfairly limit free-speech rights to criticize the government and participate in campaigns.

But open-government advocates believe the state has a strong interest in regulating political speech.

"Unlimited money flowing into election campaigns gives moneyed interests megaphones while reducing the individual’s speech to whispers," Jean Aoki, outgoing legislative chairwoman of the League of Women Voters in Hawaii, said yesterday in an e-mail statement.

Attorney General Mark Bennett said it is "very likely" that he will appeal and ask for a stay, which essentially would allow the state to enforce the law pending a decision by the appeals court. But he said a final decision will not be made until Seabright’s order is seen.

Deputy Attorney General Charleen Aina said the concern is that "the process is being changed so close to the election" on Nov. 2.

Barbara Wong, executive director of the state Campaign Spending Commission, said she had no comment because the order has yet to be filed.

James Bopp Jr., of Indiana, lead attorney for Yamada and the other plaintiffs, could not be reached yesterday for comment.

In their lawsuit, Yamada and Stewart said each wanted to contribute $2,500 to the Aloha Family Alliance Political Action Committee before the general election.

The law prohibits a person from "making contributions to a noncandidate committee in an aggregate amount greater than $1,000 in an election."

Seabright said he was granting a preliminary injunction on the enforcement of that provision.

The judge also heard Friday the lawsuit’s other challenges related to political reporting requirements, disclaimers and attribution related to advertisements. Seabright indicated he will rule later this month on whether to issue an order halting the state from enforcing those provisions.

At the hearing, attorneys filing the lawsuit did not seek an order that would prevent enforcement of the so-called "pay to play" law banning political donations by contractors making contributions in the hopes of winning state and county bids.


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