Spring 1997 Home   Newsletters

Summer 1997


President's Message (Jean Aoki)
Bonnie Campbell Keynotes Violence Against Women Forum
State League Convention
Should We Mandate Expenditure Limits? (Robert Y. Watada)
Making Democracy Work
Open Government Coalition (Eve S. Anderson)
E-mail v. Public Officials and the Sunshine Law
United Nations DPI/NGO Conference
Voting Requirements for a Constitutional Convention
Local League News - Hawaii County
Local League News - Honolulu
Local League News - Kauai
State Board Action
Get the Lowdown on the Legislature (Richard Borreca)
LWV of Kauai Wins Award
Fourth Annual Violence Against Women Luncheon Forum
Council '97

Should We Mandate Expenditure Limits?

Speech by Robert Y. Watada, Executive Director of Campaign Spending Commission
at LWVHI Convention on May 31, 1997

The topic of my short talk today is: "Should we mandate expenditure limits?" Of course, we're talking about spending limits by political candidates.

This past week, two former islanders and their daughter pleaded guilty to making illegal federal campaign contributions. Nora and Eugene Lum started their careers in greasing the political wheels right here in Hawaii. You recall that they were at the center of the controversy on political favors in the very sad case of the Maunawill farmers. Our politicians sold out to the Japanese developer for the campaign contributions. More recently, they were involved with mysterious contributions to a mayoral candidate on behalf of a would-be developer.

Interesting, but, so what? The Honolulu Advertiser in an editorial on Friday, May 23, 1997, had this to say about the indictments: "What must not be forgotten is the Lums are products of that cynical system, not the cause of it. As long as unlimited access to money is the key to political success, this kind of thing will go on and on."

What kind of system are we talking about?

It's a system that calls on the acquisition of money as the central objective of any campaign. It's a system that meant spending over a million dollars a day for a year to become president. It's a system that required the three gubernatorial candidates to find and spend over $10 million in 1994. It's a system that will require any viable candidate for governor in 1998 to collect an amount equivalent to over $14,000 a week, every week for four years!

Selling peanuts will not get you $14,000 a week for four years. But, ladies and gentlemen, that's the going rate.

It has been estimated nationally that less than one-fourth of one percent of the voters make political contributions. My off-the-cuff observation tells me that the vast majority of the money in Hawaii does not come from voters, but from corporations and other business interests.

That means that an extremely thin segment of our community has a tremendous amount of say in who is elected to political office through political contributions. It's those special interests that expect to redeem the spoils of that system. It's the system that makes for careers for people like the Lums.

It's the system that calls for millions of dollars to be collected, regardless from where, for what purpose? To spend and to spend on spin doctors and spend on marketing a great personality. The statistics are clear: If you don't spend, you may lose.

Now let's ask ourselves, is it necessary spend, spend, and spend, and spend some more? Let's take a look at how we got here to this system. In 1974, Congress, with large majorities, passed a far-reaching campaign spending bill which was signed into law by President Ford. The bill called for limiting "independent expenditures" on behalf of candidates to $1000; placed a cap on contributions by candidates to their own campaigns; placed an absolute limit that could be spent on campaigns; and limited contributions.

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case of Buckley v. Valeo struck down the provisions of limiting expenditures because that was a violation of the freedom of speech clause of the First Amendment.

At the same time, the justices ruled that excessive contributions gave rise to the potential for corruption and the appearance of corruption. Therefore, it was in the public interest for government to limit contributions.

I guess the justices were giving meaning to the expression: "Put your money where your mouth is."

The Supreme Court ruling meant that freedom of spending (read: speech) of those with millions of dollars to influence the outcome of an election and the freedom of spending by special interests are protected by the constitution.

That means that the freedom of speech of the millions of voters like us is muted. Drowned out by the few with big bucks with access to the candidates. What about our freedom of speech? And what about the freedom of speech of those candidates who do not have access to the affluent special interests?

Now you can say that that is our democratic system, our fine system of electing our representatives. I think not. I believe that that system is a genuine threat to our system of democracy.

The ongoing decline in voter turnout is testament to the attitudes of the people who feel that the system is corrupted by money and feel helpless in their ability to make a difference.

Before TV, as voters we used to go to the polls and vote on candidates based upon their issues, their experience and capabilities. Today, we vote on the candidate with the best TV ads and the candidate that has the most ads on TV based upon their ability to raise the millions to spend on TV. Money has polluted the democratic system.

Allow me to quote from a recent paper written by the secretary of state of West Virginia, Ken Heckler. "Buckley v. Valeo has disenfranchised citizens who don't have the money from having their views heard and weighed equally with those who contributed big bucks. The freedom of speech of poor people is thwarted and silenced by Buckley v. Valeo. Instead of freedom of speech, people of average means have the freedom to say nothing."

Mr. Heckler is a leading proponent of asking the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit Buckley v. Valeo. Many legal scholars and about twenty states have joined in to challenge the Buckley v. Valeo decision. There are a few states and jurisdictions that have passed laws to limit expenditures as a test of the Buckley decision.

At this moment, the Cincinnati City Council has an ordinance to limit expenditure of candidates for these offices. This case, Kruse v. City of Cincinnati, is on appeal in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Many organizations have joined in the challenge to the Buckley decision. Even the usually conservative Economist in its February 1997 issue has changed its position and argues forcefully for a revisitation of the expenditure limitation.

According to the Economist, other developed countries have their episodes of political corruption, but, "no developed country suffers a money chase, or voter disillusionment, on anything like the American scale. The reason is simple; most democracies put strict limits on candidates' spending and access to broadcasting."

I close my remarks today with an appeal to a highly respected institution such as the League of Women Voters, to join in the call to mandate expenditure limits.

Thank you and Aloha!

Robert Y. Watada

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