Clean elections face political exorcism
WHEN writing laws, our legislators like to remind us that "the devil is in the details."
If the devil resides in the details of legislation, just imagine how far down the rings of hell you must travel to find laws about campaign spending.
It is always the smallest details that trip up the Legislature's attempts to answer both the public's clamor for clean campaigns and their natural urge at self-protection.
Two years ago, for instance, the Legislature tidied up the campaign spending laws and changed the amount of money corporations could give. But the new campaign spending commission's executive director, former assistant police chief Barbara Wong, said the way the law was written corporations could give one contribution of $1,000, not contributions of up to $1,000.
So last year the Senate went back to amend that detail, but the House said "No."
Some thought last year's elections would end campaign spending as we know it and incumbents would be turned out. Never happened. Corporate money or not, the incumbents were back with just two losses.
BEFORE THE Legislature this year is a real change, not just to those devilish details but to how politicians run.
The idea has been around for eight years, pushed by a group called Clean Elections Hawaii. First the group asked for a study. Then it asked for a pilot project. The study came and went; the pilot project was never done.
But today leaders in the House and Senate are saying they like public financing and want to try it.
Maine, Arizona and Connecticut have publicly financed elections with few problems reported.
A publicly financed election is just that -- candidates get public money, in this case, state money, to run for office. To get the funds, candidates would have to agree not to accept private money. One proposal has it that the publicly financed candidate would get as much as the richest privately funded candidate.
Supporters say states with publicly financed elections have better voter turnout and, more important, the politicians with the most money don't always win.
SEN. CLAYTON Hee, Judiciary chairman, says he is sure a public-financing bill will move from his committee and should clear the Senate. In the House, Rep. Tommy Waters says he also wants to move out such a bill.
Old-timers, however, just turn pale at the thought that state money would go to pay for a candidate to oppose them. They can already see the commercials bragging, "I didn't take one penny of private money, and I'm not beholden to anyone but the people."
It will be for the public to judge which devil draws up the details in the final campaign spending bill.
writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com