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A Different Perspective
Bob Watada

Monday, March 14, 2005

Publically funded ‘clean’
campaigns won’t eliminate
special interests

Rep. Brian Schatz blames the current system of campaign finance for the "growing cynicism" that "threatens the basic foundation of our democracy" ("Another View," Star-Bulletin, March 6). He believes that campaigns should be 100 percent funded by the taxpayer. There is another viewpoint.

Hawaii is already one of the most generous states in providing taxpayer assistance to candidates. Hawaii law, mandated by the state Constitution, already provides for partial public funding of candidates for state and local offices. Contributors are allowed to take a tax deduction for contributions to publicly funded candidates. Hawaii is the only state with such support for candidates.

It makes no rational sense to establish another, almost identical program for a few candidates that will cost the taxpayers more than double the current administrative cost in addition to millions of taxpayer dollars going to candidates. And paraded as campaign spending reform? This is more shibai.

If you want more tax monies to go to candidates, it makes more sense to merely amend the current law. But, of course, that doesn't have the appeal of saying, "Do it like they do it in Maine or Arizona."

I oppose the lack of candor in perpetuating this hoax on voters. In truth, elected officials would love to have taxpayers pay for their campaigns, because it means that as candidates they no longer will have to put their hands out for contributions. What a novel idea, and we can call it the Clean Election.

Proponents of this faux campaign finance reform claim that special-interest ties to elected officials will be cut. This simply defies logic. Special interests' sway on public policy is complex, but mostly centered on the decision makers while in office. In a campaign, special interests tend to give contributions to both sides to cover their bets, or concentrate campaign help on certain friends.

The so-called special interests love the Maine program. Before, they were hassled by four or five candidates for contributions to the same office. Now, they are not hassled to give to any candidates, thanks to the taxpayer. The special interest funds are now directed to legislative political action committees that are not regulated or required to disclose who they got the money from.

The real election takes place in selecting officers and chairmen for the key committees after they are elected. This is all done in secrecy. The special interests then descend on the already elected official to influence policy decisions and get their share from the public trough. Did Schatz forget to tell you that lawmakers have exempted themselves from the ethics laws and are not required to declare a conflict of interest?

For a number of years, the House has resisted enacting legislation to require electronic filing for themselves, which would make their contributions and expenditures transparent to the voters. They have resisted attempts to close contribution loopholes from their favorite friends. Now they want the taxpayer to finance their campaigns so the voters can be assured of not knowing who is behind the decisions of elected officials in the backrooms of the Legislature.

Schatz and the clean election proponents want you to believe that this will be the end of political corruption. Political corruption takes place when corrupt politicians illegally line their pockets and friends' pockets at the expense of the taxpayer. Whether candidates are 100 percent publicly funded or not, political corruption will continue.

In the past election some incumbents "ran scared" because some "special interests" were able to heavily finance some candidates. The incumbents want to be assured that they will never be outspent by their opponents. The challenged incumbent just waits until their opponent and friends spend as much or more than they do and within 48 hours, taxpayer funds have to be disbursed to the challenged incumbent on a dollar-for-dollar basis to keep up with the opponent.

There are very few incumbent representatives who would turn down a minimum of $32,000 for the primary election and $32,000 for the general election, gratis, thanks to the taxpayer -- a pay raise in the name of reform! Never mind that the current average cost of a House race for both primary and general elections is less than $30,000. Never mind that Massachusetts had a clean election program like Maine and the legislature repealed the law because the taxpayers did not want to pay candidates; and the clean election program after the one election was deemed to be a "total disaster."

By the way, Schatz fails to tell you that he was once paid by the Clean Elections organization. Growing cynicism?

Bob Watada is executive director of the Campaign Spending Commission.

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