Public funding shuts out special interests
The Legislature is considering proposals to allow public funding of political campaigns.
ALARM in Congress over the Jack Abramoff lobbying and bribery scandal has pushed House Republicans to take a mincing step toward reform. They've voted to forbid former members who have crossed over to K Street from exercising in the House gym.
The ludicrous act serves to illustrate how entrenched politicians are reluctant to change the way they do business and how many of them rely on the goodwill -- and money -- of special interests to keep their Capitol Hill addresses.
Though campaign contributions in Hawaii do not come close to the heavy flow of cash and favors lobbyists and the industry groups spread inside the beltway, politicians here are similarly exposed to such influence.
What can and what often results are public policies and decisions that benefit campaign contributors, not what's best for voters and communities.
This year, as in the past several years, the state Legislature has been asked to consider breaking that pattern by giving state House candidates the option of public funding to conduct campaigns.
In an op-ed piece in the Star-Bulletin yesterday, John J. Higgins of Voter Owned Elections Hawaii noted that public funding has boosted voter turnout in Maine and Arizona. In the latter, turnout has increased by 67 percent, reflecting a reversal of voters' sense that because special interests hold so much power, their ballots don't count.
For candidates, public funding frees them from constantly chasing campaign checks and allows them to spend more time connecting with voters.
The hurdle is that sitting House members would have to approve the change and many are reluctant for fear of losing their positions. A solution would be to establish a pilot program that would take place in districts chosen at random.
Few choose to run for public office because of the huge amounts needed for campaigns, leaving only those with personal wealth or incumbents who have financing machines in place to do so. Money should not be a deterrent to service. Public funding would level the field.
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