Hawaii lawmakers push forward election reforms
By ANITA HOFSCHNEIDER
HONOLULU — Proposals aimed at decreasing the influence of private money on state elections are making headway in the Hawaii Legislature.
The House Judiciary Committee approved two bills Tuesday reforming campaign finance reporting requirements. The Campaign Spending Commission supports the bills and says they will increase transparency.
Committee members also voted Tuesday for a bill to adjust a Big Island pilot project for publicly funded campaigns to equalize the amount of money candidates receive.
Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, Ka‘u, says the bill will increase the program’s appeal.
But some say reforming the Big Island program isn’t enough.
Kory Payne of Voter-Owned Hawaii is one of several advocates for a comprehensive public funding program for state legislative races.
The proposal passed the House overwhelmingly last week, despite concerns from county clerks’ offices that the program could strain their resources. The Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to set a date to review the bill.
Supporters say the initiative is in response to growing fear of how special interests may influence Hawaii politics.
Payne said the state hasn’t taken the steps needed to address issues such as food security and energy sustainability because of the power of special interests.
“In Hawaii it’s blatantly obvious that we’ve been putting off some of our most important policy decisions,” Payne said. “Special interests have cornered the market on elections and they’re getting huge returns on their investments.”
He estimated the program could cost taxpayers about $2.5 million a year.
Hawaii already has a partial public funding program, but critics say it is ineffective.
According to the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission website, just two legislative candidates participated in the program during the 2012 general election. Only one, Rep. Rida Carbanilla from Ewa Beach, was successful.
Meanwhile, the amount of money in Hawaii politics has continued to grow.
Between 1994 and 2012, total state Senate candidate spending more than doubled.
Also in that time period, the median amount spent by House candidates increased by more than 60 percent.
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