Common Cause Hawaii and Public Citizen Hawaii have asked candidates for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House to take the "People's Pledge" and denounce independent political advertising by mainland groups.
The candidates could agree to make donations from campaign funds to charities selected by their opponents to atone for -- and potentially discourage -- the independent spending. In 2012, Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat who is now a U.S. senator, and then-U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican, agreed to a similar pledge during a Senate campaign in Massachusetts that had attracted national interest from super PACs and independent groups.
Good-government groups have celebrated such tactics as a voluntary response to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 that opened the door for unlimited political spending by corporations and labor unions as long as the groups do not coordinate with candidates.
But there is a perception in Hawaii that good-government groups are aligned with progressives -- and the announcement from Common Cause and Public Citizen about the "People's Pledge" re-inforced that perception.
The groups, as their only example, single out a television advertisement this week from the Republican Governors Association that attempts to tie state Sen. David Ige to unpopular Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who Ige drubbed in the Democratic primary. The independent ad is intended to help former Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, the Republican.
Yet Common Cause and Public Citizen have not asked the candidates for governor to take the "People's Pledge," citing conflicts between state and federal campaign-finance laws.
The groups also did not urge federal candidates in Hawaii to take the pledge during the primary. In the Democratic primary between U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, for example, liberal mainland groups such as the League of Conservation Voters and EMILY's List sponsored independent ads for the candidates.
Several mainland progressive groups, including MoveOn.org, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and Democracy for America, also did outreach in Hawaii on behalf of Schatz that attacked Hanabusa as a corporate-friendly threat to Social Security and other entitlement programs.
Warren herself sent out a fundraising appeal for Schatz to members of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee -- including some in Hawaii -- with Social Security as the theme.
Hanabusa complained that Schatz and his progressive allies unfairly distorted her record on Social Security and were trying to scare seniors.
Yet there was no denunciation by Common Cause Hawaii or other local good-government groups about the independent spending, which largely benefited Schatz, a progressive, who narrowly defeated Hanabusa.
Common Cause, however, swiftly condemned the RGA ad after it first aired this week.
"It's really responding to what we saw happen in the primary," said Carmille Lim, the executive director of Common Cause Hawaii. "We would have liked to launch something like this sooner, where it could have nipped things at the bud.
"But this is what we can do to raise awareness for any outside group trying to influence our election."