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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a public funding option for elections during the 1978 Constitutional Convention, and are testing an alternative to that outdated program on the Big Island.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.

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