Bill proposes public funding of elections
The legislation would use the Big Island's County Council vote in 2010 as a test case
A coalition of Big Island lawmakers, public-interest groups, Democratic Party officials and citizens is urging the Legislature to back a proposal to test the viability of publicly financed elections.
The proposal, House Bill 661, was passed out of the House last year and died in the Senate. It would create comprehensive public funding for elections to any County Council.
Advocates are asking lawmakers to revive the bill and create the public funding mechanism specifically for the 2010 Big Island County Council races. The Council already has passed a resolution supporting such a system, said Big Island Councilman Bob Jacobson.
"Let's face it, corporations, special interests and developers have self-interest in mind when they donate to candidates," Jacobson said yesterday at a news conference at the state Capitol. "I'm asking that legislators, grass-roots organizations and citizens all come together to take this important step to improve our electoral system and promote increased public participation in our election."
Bart Dame, co-chairman of the legislative committee of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, said the bill would allow the Big Island to be used as a testing ground.
"We suspect that a limited Big Island pilot project of this nature will convince many elected officials, potential candidates and members of the general public that public financing is a cost-effective means of running elections, recruiting new political talent and reducing the influence of special interests in the legislative process," Dame said.
After passing out of the House last year, HB 661 was referred to the Senate's Judiciary and Labor and Ways and Means committees.
Judiciary Chairman Brian Taniguchi, who took over as chairman after last session, said he plans to hold a hearing on the bill. He noted that similar bills have been introduced in the past but have typically died out of funding concerns.
"There's always the concern that when we're short of funds and low on revenue, what's going to happen?" said Taniguchi (D, Moiliili-Manoa). "Do we cut education to help pay for peoples' campaigns? I think that's traditionally been the concern."