Public election funding beats initiative process
PAUL E. SMITH'S op-ed piece ("Initiative process gives voters power to decide," Gathering Place, Star-Bulletin, Feb. 16
) raises questions and disseminates misinformation, rather than offering an informed rebuttal to John Higgins's Feb. 12 op-ed piece
on voter-owned elections, the public funding of election campaigns.
To begin with, how do "publicly funded election campaigns carry potential conflicts of putting legislators in charge of elections"? The last I knew, the Office of Elections plans and administers elections. How does public funding perpetuate the incumbency advantage? If this were true, why haven't legislators embraced public funding as a gift to themselves over the several years that supporters, in vain, have sought the passage of legislation to adopt that new system?
Smith seems concerned about the escalation of costs in later years. Under the current system, costs of campaigning have been rising consistently. Newcomers, unless they are well-known public figures, need a lot more funding than incumbents do to be competitive. Voter-owned elections, because of the requirement that participants agree to abide by expenditure limits, will work to keep the costs from escalating as much. If all candidates were to opt into this system, the escalation could be kept to the inflation level.
Smith's biggest confusion centers around the difference between the initiative process and voter-owned elections. These are two separate systems with two separate purposes. Smith suggests that initiative and referendum would bring about a better check on legislators' actions and make voter-owned elections unnecessary.
I admit that there are similarities in that both put some power and control in voters' hands. Both do improve the probability that certain issues with enough voter interest but not supported by certain special interests will be addressed by legislators on one hand and by voter referendum on the other. The power of referendum could even overturn legislation adopted by the county councils or by the Legislature. However, voter-owned elections could actually prevent the enactment of many of the laws that voters might want to overturn.
The initiative is a process intended to allow citizens to enact legislation that our legislators will not, in spite of strong public interest in such legislation. The public funding of elections campaigns is aimed at getting special-interest money out of the system so that, as the title (voter-owned elections) suggests, candidates who opt into the public-funding system will be beholden to no one but the public, who supplies them with campaign funds.
Yes, public funding will reduce the need for the initiative process by allowing legislation to be enacted in the public interest that heretofore was impossible because of opposition from one special interest or another. But initiative cannot entirely replace public funding as a way of reducing special interest influence on the adoption of public policies.
The accountability system that Smith says public funding does not address is the elections that follow the election campaigns. That's where accountability kicks in.
Jean Y. Aoki is legislative chairwoman for the League of Women Voters of Hawaii.