Public Funding Pilot Limits Outside Influence

Media Release:

The story dates back to the 1978 Constitutional Convention. At that time, voters in Hawaii decided they did not want outside interests funding Hawaii’s elections and influencing her laws, so they created the partial public funding system that still exists today. Since then, however, election costs have skyrocketed, and the partial public funding system is rarely used.

In reaction, citizen activists pushed for a full public funding option to keep publicly funded candidates competitive with those raising increasing amounts of private money. In 2008, a law was passed that created Act 244, a pilot program for Hawaii County Council elections, which allows candidates to attempt to qualify for full public funds to run their campaigns.

“Instead of looking to mainland architecture and development firms, this program gives Council candidates an alternative option for raising funds,” said Kory Payne, Executive Director for Voter Owned Hawaii, an organization that advocated for the program. “Now many candidates are not dialing for dollars, but going into their districts, registering voters, and collecting qualifying signatures and contributions,” he added.

The money for candidates comes from the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund, which is funded by voluntary check offs on state income tax forms. As of July, the Fund had over $5 million. One area of controversy in Act 244, was a fiscal cap added by legislators, mandating that Hawaii County Council elections cannot pull more than $350,000 out of the Election Fund for the pilot program.

“We explained to legislators that it was highly unlikely the pilot program would ever exceed $600,000, but still the $350,000 cap was put in place,” said Payne. “In the upcoming legislative session, we’ll be advocating for legislation to raise that $350,000 cap,” he said.

This year, the program used a total of $140,188 after eight candidates qualified for full public funds. Sixteen candidates filed “intents” to try to qualify using the program. In order to qualify, the candidates needed to collect 200 signatures from registered voters within their districts, and each signature had to be accompanied with a $5 check or money order.

Kory Payne
Voter Owned Hawaii

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