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To provide an alternative model to the outdated statewide partial funding program for elections, citizen advocates convinced legislators to implement a pilot program for Big Island County Council elections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

 

Supreme Court Rules Against Part of Arizona’s Fair Elections Law – Advocates for Hawaii’s Law Call on Legislators to Pass HB 1575

Statement from Common Cause Hawaii on today’s U.S. Supreme Court Ruling:

The controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruled today — in McComish v. Bennett — that one part of Arizona’s Fair Elections law is unconstitutional, but left the concept of publicly funded elections in tact. This is mixed news for advocates of Big Island’s Fair Elections pilot program.

Hawaii originally created a public funding option for elections during the 1978 Constitutional Convention, and are testing an alternative to that outdated program on the Big Island. The Big Island Fair Elections pilot was modeled after Arizona’s successful program.

The Roberts-lead Supreme Court shocked the legal community in 2010 by allowing unlimited private expenditures in election campaigns, and that decision paved the way for today’s ruling on the Arizona law.

Advocates for Hawaii’s Fair Elections pilot program anticipated this ruling, and in this 2011 legislative session tried to pass HB 1575, which would have preemptively modified Hawaii’s law to fit within the Supreme Court’s ruling. House Bill 1575 did not pass in 2011, but can still be voted on in the 2012 legislative session.

Candidates who are able to qualify for public funds under Hawaii’s pilot program receive money through a base allotment which is immediately given once a candidate gathers enough signatures and small contributions. If the publicly funded candidate is outspent by a privately funded opponent, matching funds are given to the publicly funded candidate. It’s the matching funds mechanism against which the Supreme Court ruled.

“When we saw that the Roberts-lead Supreme Court took on this case, we thought it was clear what their intent was,” said Kory Payne, executive director for Voter Owned Hawaii. “That’s why we called on legislators to pass HB 1575 during this past session, and why we’re counting on them to pass it in 2012” he said.

“The Supreme Court has once again sided with big-moneyed interests in this case, but the foundation of public campaign finance programs remains strong, and it’s more important than ever that we preserve and extend them,” said Nikki Love, executive director for Common Cause, Hawaii.

Hawaii has a long tradition of leading the way for a public funding option for elections. In 1978 during the Constitutional Convention, we created the current partial public funding program.

That program is managed by the Campaign Spending Commission, and funded by a three dollar check off on state income tax forms. Since 1978, however, the program has seen a reduction in usage, and citizen groups called for the creation of the Big Island’s pilot program.

“It’s more important than ever that Hawaii continues to pave the way for a public funding option for elections so that the voting public can take back control of an elections system that is largely being controlled by a wealthy elite” said Payne.