How Todays McComish Decision Affects Hawaii’s Publicly Funded Election

The Supreme Court made it’s decision today on the McComish hearings that are related to Arizona Citizens Clean Election Act and it does have a small ramification on how Hawaii’s Pilot project will go on.

From Voter Owned Hawaii:


Hawaii is one of numerous jurisdictions with a “clean elections” or “fair elections” program to provide public funding for election campaigns. Hawaii’s pilot program for publicly-funded elections on the Big Island was first implemented in 2010. –The Hawaii program has a similar structure to Arizona’s and is therefore affected by today’s decision in McComish. The McComish decision only affects the “matching” funds, the second of two parts described below.

1. Base amount of public funding — The base amount is the initial allotment of money a candidate receives once they’ve passed the qualification or vetting process to receive public funds. The amount of money a candidate receives for their base amount depends upon how much the winning candidates (in that specific district) spent over the last two election cycles. This part is not affected by the McComish decision.

2. Matching Funds or Trigger Funds – “Matching” or “trigger” funds is the second way a publicly funded candidate can receive money in their race. In McComish, this is the specific mechanism the Supreme Court ruled against.

Matching funds come into play when a publicly funded candidate is running against a privately funded opponent who has spent more money than the base amount of their publicly funded opponent. Matching funds give the publicly funded candidate a dollar-for-dollar match when the privately funded candidate spends more money than the base amount of the publicly funded candidate. This allows the publicly funded candidate to remain competitive. The publicly funded candidate can receive a maximum of up to two times their base allotment in matching funds.

What this means for Hawaii’s pilot program

The McComish decision affects only one piece of Hawaii’s law, and we should adjust Act 244 accordingly. Voter Owned Hawaii and other organizations supported legislation in the 2011 legislative session (HB1575) that would have preemptively changed the matching funds mechanism (in the expectation of a negative decision from the Supreme Court).

We will continue to work in 2012 to pass legislation to address the decision in McComish.

Why it’s important for Hawaii to continue to lead the way for Fair and Clean Elections and a public funding option.

  • The idea of a public funding option for elections was established during the 1978 Constitutional Convention and has a strong legacy in Hawaii. We need to continue to honor that promise with a public funding option for elections that gives candidates enough money to run a competitive race against privately funded candidates.

  • This narrow decision leaves the foundation for public financing systems intact. The court has only ruled that the trigger fund provision of some public financing systems is unconstitutional—not the foundation of public financing.

  • Campaign systems that use trigger funds can be adapted to comply with today’s ruling with new matching funds systems, like that offered in HB1575.

  • Because of the recent Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, private money flowing into elections has skyrocketed even more. No less than the integrity of our democracy is at stake when it comes to making sure the public’s voice is not drowned out by private money.

  • As the Supreme Court continues its hostility to common sense legislation aimed at raising the voice of everyday people, elected officials must act to ensure our elections are truly of, by, and for the people and not bought and paid for by special interests.


 “ . . . if we think these tremendous sums being spent [on elections], these tremendous sums being contributed, are not sums for which we are going to ultimately pay because of poor government . . . and because of undue influence . . . we are fooling ourselves.”    – Delegate Naomi Campbell during the 1978 Constitutional Convention

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