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Hawaii News

State drops campaign gift appeal

Hawaii has dropped its appeal to a federal court ruling that lifted a $1,000 limit on donations to political action committees that make independent expenditures, so donors are free to give unlimited amounts of money to such committees.

The state withdrew its appeal to a preliminary injunction issued in October by U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reached a decision in a similar campaign finance case last week.

The 9th Circuit, in Thalheimer v. San Diego, held that San Diego’s contribution and spending limit on independent committees is likely a violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The 9th Circuit told Hawaii and A-1 A-lectrician Inc., the contractors challenging the state’s campaign finance law, to be ready to discuss the San Diego case at oral arguments scheduled for Wednesday. But the state instead chose to withdraw its appeal.

"The (San Diego) case raised similar issues to our appeal," said Joshua Wisch, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office.

James Hochberg, one of the attorneys representing A-1 A-lectrician, could not be reached for comment late Monday.

Seabright granted the preliminary injunction last October so contractors could make $2,500 contributions to the Aloha Family Alliance Political Action Committee before the November elections.

While the broader legal challenge to the state’s law — including an attempt to overturn a ban on political contributions by state and county contractors — is still pending before Sea- bright, the state’s decision to drop the appeal on the contribution limit to PACs is significant.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010 freed corporations to make unlimited independent expenditures before elections.

Spending by mainland interest groups increased in Hawaii last year during the governor’s race and the urban Honolulu congressional campaign.

Wisch said the state is not preparing a retreat and will defend the state’s campaign finance law. "It’s far from over," he said.

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