David Shapiro: To curtail dirty political campaigning, don’t help it succeed

Gun Rights

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State Rep. Patrick Branco is running for Congress as a candidate of fresh ideas, but his most prominent idea is an awful one: using disreputable tactics to solicit outside special interests to attack his opponent, former state Sen. Jill Tokuda.

Special-interest political action committees known as super PACs can spend near-unlimited amounts supporting their favored candidates, with limited transparency on their sources of funding; hence the term “dark money.”

The only real limit is there can be no coordination between these nominally independent committees and candidates.

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Branco is skirting this rule with a dodge known as “red boxing,” in which candidates’ websites use code words to solicit super PAC support and provide a virtual blueprint for the kinds of TV ads, mailers and social media support they’d like.

Branco’s site spells out in bold letters what he wants voters to “see,” “hear” and “read” about himself and Tokuda, along with photos, videos and a glossary of local terms to use.

He’s attracted support from PACs representing cryptocurrency interests, veterans and Hispanics. They’ve filled local airwaves with some $1 million worth of ads praising Branco and attacking Tokuda.

The PAC VoteVets has hit Tokuda as soft on guns and tied her to the recent Texas school shooting based on a 10-year-old B-rating she got from the National Rifle Association.

Neither Branco nor the PAC has provided anything from her 12-year legislative record showing she promoted guns or failed to support Hawaii’s tough firearm restrictions.

The mainland PACs have spent nearly 10 times what Branco has raised himself locally, and might well end up spending more swaying Hawaii voters than the candidates combined.

On the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight Hawaii” livestream program last week, Tokuda said Branco’s website amounts to a “for sale” sign. His defense was to claim she’s done an effective job pushing “falsehoods” about his tactics in the media.

In the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, the Hawaii Carpenters Union super PAC is sponsoring similar attacks against front-runner Sylvia Luke to support the union’s endorsed candidate, Ikaika Anderson. Keith Amemiya and Sherry Menor-McNamara also are running.

The ads by Be Change Now use old-fashioned mudslinging to darkly and vaguely tie Luke to indicted businessman Martin Kao — who also donated to candidates endorsed by the carpenters. The disjointed attacks heave words like “scandal” and “money laundering” at Luke.

There’s no sign Anderson solicited the ad support in the same way as Branco, but neither does he disavow it.

“As I’ve had to justify my prior votes and actions, so should everyone else,” said Anderson, who’s had to deal with questions about why he quit his City Council seat in 2020 saying he needed to care for his grandparents, then took a job as a union lobbyist.

Voters must each decide what kind of campaigning we find acceptable.

The only defense against tactics we see as dirty is to call out those who practice them and not help them achieve their goals.

Reach David Shapiro at volcanicash@gmail.com.

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