A bill that would create a public funding program for state House elections is getting mixed reviews.
Rep. Cindy Evans, D-Kohala, North Kona, voted in favor of House Bill 2533 on Tuesday, but not without reservations.
“I had some concerns regarding the bill. First, it’s a bill just for representatives. Why did they do the representatives and not the Senate?” she said.
That’s one reason Rep. Bob McDermott of Oahu voted against the legislation.
“It targets representatives, not the senate or governor or any of the bigger offices,” he said. “If it was across the board and made for an even playing field for everybody, and that was the goal, I could support something like that, but that’s living in fantasy land and you’re never going to get there.”
Noelie Rodriguez, a professor of sociology at Hawaii Community College, argues the bill is a step in the right direction.
“I think if we can have it on the state representatives this year that would be a victory. It would be successful and eventually we’d work it through the senate,” she said.
Rodriguez initiated a sign-waving event from 5-6 p.m. today at Hopaco at 280 Makaala St. in Hilo in support of “clean elections,” a concept that focuses on keeping big money out of politics.
She said it’s in the public’s interest to support legislation such as HB 2533.
“It’s critical that we start getting corporate money and money of the very wealthy out of our government because we want a government that helps the people, not one that represents the wealthy or acts on behalf of corporate interest,” she said.
Under the bill, candidates could collect signatures, along with $5 donations, from voters in their districts in exchange for a sum of money from the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund, which is paid by taxpayers through a voluntary check-off on state income tax forms. Politicians then would use those funds to finance their campaigns.
“This bill will make it so there’s enough money for politicians to run without becoming beholden to their campaign funders,” Rodriguez said. “It would make it so they can’t take a significant amount of money for the funding. Basically, it’s a bill to stop the corruption of government by big money and big corporate interest.”
However, Rep. Marcus Oshiro of Oahu, who voted against the measure, argues there’s more to the bill then keeping corporate money out of the politician’s pockets.
“The significant change in this draft is that it would use money from the general fund, and the question is, amongst the other needs of the community, is this a priority for taxpayers?” he said.
A similar program went into effect on the Big Island in 2010.
The pilot program was only for Hawaii County Council candidates through the 2014 election. Politicians and voters alike supported the effort, but the program ended after its bank account went below the $3.5 million threshold by the state law.
Evans said funding for the program was also one of her concerns.
“Secondly, is if you have a limited appropriation amount in the fund for a program like this what happens when the funds run out and you have people applying for the money and qualifying for it and you don’t have the money?” she said. “Third, is the timing of this during the election. So if they’re applying for matching funds, if you don’t have the staff and the check to turn money around quickly then it in fact impacts the election. If we’re not supporting enough staff to process payments, then it’s flawed from the beginning.”
McDermott said he also voted against the bill because he doesn’t think tax dollars should be used for campaigns.
“I don’t think people should be forced to support candidates with their tax dollars that they fundamentally disagree with,” he said. “Let people run on their ideas, let them raise their own money and work hard and do it.”
The bill passed its first reading in the state Senate Thursday and was referred to the Senate committees on Judiciary and Labor and Ways and Means.
Email Megan Moseley at firstname.lastname@example.org.