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House Kills Law That Would Adjust Big Island Public Funding Pilot

Media Release:

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today for a case that challenges one piece of Arizona’s Clean Elections law, which was enacted by voters through a ballot referendum 13 years ago.  This is significant for Hawaii because our pilot public funding law on the Big Island is modeled after Arizona’s.

In anticipation of a negative ruling by the Supreme Court, Fair Elections advocates submitted legislation that would adjust the specific piece of the program that would be affected by the court case.

“Even though the Supreme Court upheld the idea of public funding for elections in the 1976, we’ve seen a new trend with the current makeup of the Supreme Court,” said Kory Payne, executive director for Voter Owned Hawaii.  “In the expectation of a negative ruling from the Supreme Court, we submitted legislation this year that would have adjusted Hawaii’s law preemptively.  That law was killed by Representative Keith-Agaran in the House Judiciary Committee,” he said.

John McComish

John McComish, an Arizona Republican running for state office, originally filed the complaint against their Clean Elections program.  McComish was running against a publicly funded competitor.  Like Hawaii’s law, publicly funded candidates can receive limited amounts of matching funds when their privately funded opponents outspend them.

Proponents of Hawaii’s pilot Fair Elections pilot program say this is a good thing.  “We don’t let people pay judges when they’re interpreting laws, so why would we want private money to determine what laws are made in the first place?” said Payne.

Since the addition of Justice John Roberts during the Bush administration, the U.S. Supreme Court has demonstrated a willingness to step in on campaign finance issues.  Last year, they made a controversial ruling on the case Citizens United v FEC.

After McComish lost his case in a lower court, the Supreme Court stepped in and blocked enforcement of Arizona’s provision last June and decided to hear the case.  This, say advocates of Fair Elections laws, is alarming.

In 1978 Hawaii created its original public funding program during the Constitutional Convention.  The Campaign Spending Commission and the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund were established then, and voters were able to try to qualify to receive public funds.  Advocates lobbied for a modernization to this program in the form of the Big Island pilot.

“Hawaii was ahead of our time when we created the public funding option in 1978, but since then the program has become ineffective and outdated,” said Payne.  “The Big Island pilot program is an exciting new way to resurrect our effort to limit the corrupting influence of money in politics,” he added.

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