Public funding election merits Big Isle trial run
The Legislature is considering a pilot program providing full public funding of Hawaii County Council elections.
Attempts to provide full public funding of elections have failed in the Legislature for eight years, but a modest pilot program limited to Hawaii County Council elections for three consecutive elections deserves enactment. The project should determine whether such a system can be as successful in Hawaii as it has been in Maine and Arizona.
The state now has a matching fund system available to candidates who agree to certain restrictions, stipulations that have resulted in its failure. Fewer than 10 percent of candidates use it and fewer than 10 percent of those who do actually win, according to John Higgins, president of Hawaii Clean Elections.
Opponents of the system frown on taxpayer dollars going to politicians, but the pool created by the tax checkoff for election funds amounts to $5.5 million and adds $2.7 million every two years.
A broad measure was approved by the state House this month and is being tailored in the Senate to apply only to county council races on the Big Island for three elections, beginning in 2010. Candidates would be required to produce 200 signatures of voters, each paying $5, with the amount put into the fund.
Based on average campaign expenditures by winners for the two previous elections, a council candidate on the Big Island could qualify to receive about $25,000. Some candidates may instead use private contributions or their own money so they can spend as much as they want.
If the pilot program is successful, it could lead to such funding of candidates for all county and state offices. Such a system could sharply reduce the power of special interests over elected officials.
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