Gathering Places

Maile M. Bay

Thursday, March 22, 2001

Let’s pass campaign
finance reform now

The time for talking is past; it is time to act.

The League of Women Voters is alarmed at the common thread regarding legislative initiatives in this year's session: lack of response by our leaders to reform Hawaii's election system and bring confidence back to the voters.

Too many people don't vote because they feel that their vote does not count, believing that special interests with money carry the day. With voter participation at a level too low for comfort (below 50 percent of eligible voters), and distrust of government ever growing, our democracy is in danger.

Unless something is done to bring all citizens into the process with equal access to influencing government policies, we can abandon all pretense of being a democracy.

OUR LEGISLATIVE leadership could remedy this situation. Tomorrow, state Senate and House leaders could ensure the health of our political system by hearing and passing two campaign finance reforms. The first, House Bill 169, would establish public funding for the Honolulu City Council's campaign for 2002, when all nine seats will be vacant.

The Senate Transportation and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee headed by Sen. Cal Kawamoto, (D-Waipahu), killed a similar bill last year. We want to avoid a rerun, and demand that hearings on this bill be held by senators who are the chairpersons of the responsible committees -- Sens. Kawamoto, Donna Kim and Brian Kanno, and later Sen. Brian Taniguchi, who should hear it in the Committee on Ways and Means.


The second bill, HB 170, is loaded with excellent campaign finance items. This bill would corrects a good part of the problem by:

>> Cutting contribution limits in half, (the League supports "reasonable limits");

>> Prohibiting state and national banks, corporations and labor organizations from contributing to campaigns.

>> Requiring clear, audible, or legible, prominent disclaimers containing specific information about who paid for campaign advertisements.

The League supports most of the bill, except for allowing unlimited use of contributions from campaign funds for nonprofit community service, educational, youth, recreational, charitable, scientific, literary, or civic organizations.

ALTHOUGH THESE organizations are worthy of support, using campaign funds should be limited to actual campaign expenses. The record shows that almost half of the some campaign funds are used for donations, raising serious concerns about the purpose of such donations.

In states such as Arizona, Maine, and Vermont, where there has been campaign finance reform, there is more competition and more legislators are elected without ties to special interests.

Hurdles remain, not just for Hawaii, but for other states where the fox watches the hen coop.

In 1998, Massachusetts passed a Clean Elections Law, but legislators delayed implementation of the law until this month. Many legislators were relieved by no longer having to raise funds to run for election but the prospect of facing new and possibly first-time-ever opposition is sobering. In this past election, Massachusetts had the second highest rate of uncontested races in the country at 71 percent.

IN HAWAII, 14 candidates for the Senate and the House were elected in the primary without opposition. Others faced competition in the primary election, but none in the general election. Still others had no competition in the primary, but faced competition in the general election.

We should have a choice of candidates in all of our elections. Campaign reform will open those doors to let democracy shine in.

We challenge Senate and House leaders to be bold and to pass both bills this legislative session so that we can once again place confidence in our politicians. Big Island Mayor Harry Kim won even though his campaign contributions were limited to $10 -- and he had plenty of competition for the position of mayor.

Maile M. Bay is president of the
Hawaii League of Women Voters.

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