Citizens Rally to Save Clean Elections Program

Students Gather to Push Legislation Protecting Public Funding Pilot for County Council Elections

In the wake of an elections season dominated by private money and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v FEC, over thirty students and citizens walked from UH Hilo and gathered at the state building, holding signs and calling on state legislators to keep up funding for the Big Island public funding pilot program.

Even though the pilot program has been successful, allowing five out of nine current councilors to get elected without accepting any private money, funding to continue the program has been called into question.

The Campaign Spending Commission, which administers the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund, has been running at a deficit for several years.  Unless the Campaign Fund has more than $3.5 million by next September, the Commission may halt the pilot program.

Noelie Rodrigues still Rallying for the Public

Noelie Rodrigues still Rallying for the Public

“It’s imperative the state find more funding for the Election Fund,” said Dr. Noelie Rodriguez, one of the event’s organizers.  “When candidates don’t have to spend time dialing for dollars, they can spend more time figuring out how to make the county better for everyone,” she said.

The crowd at the Capitol included many younger people, including Jennifer Ruggles, a Voter Owned Hawaii intern, who said “This pay-to-play system of elections just isn’t sustainable for the long term.  We need to address the issue of money in politics and publicly funded elections is the best place to start, and it needs to get adequate funding.”

To provide an alternative model to the outdated statewide partial funding program for elections, citizen advocates convinced legislators to implement a pilot program for Big Island County Council elections starting in 2010.

“Special interest money really undermines our system and we are very glad to have five councilors elected without accepting any,” said Rodriguez.

Advocates will also propose legislation this coming session to overhaul the statewide partial funding program.  Implemented in 1978, the program was meant to limit the influence of special interest money on elections and laws passed by politicians.  Over time, citizens say, the program became obsolete and now does not provide candidates with competitive sums of money.

“It’s a shame the 1978 program was never kept up to date and has become obsolete,” said Kory Payne, executive director for Voter Owned Hawaii.  “After the Citizens United court decision, people are finally ready to see the public funding program work once again,” he added.

In Hawaii there appears to be overwhelming support for a public funding program for elections that grants competitive amounts of money to candidates.  In a 2005 poll conducted by AARP, 86% of voting age Hawaii residents thought campaign contributions moderately or greatly influenced policies supported by elected officials.

 

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