Public funding puts Big Isle voters first
Get ready for more voters in Hawaii County! The state's legislative branch has taken a giant step in improving the appearance and funding of Hawaii County Council elections. House Bill 661, HD1, SD1, Relating to Campaign Spending, passed the Ways and Means Committee on March 27. This bill will make the Hawaii County Council elections in 2010, 2012 and 2014 the first fully publicly funded elections in the state.
The House bill establishes qualifications, limitations on funding and the use of funds and other requirements to allow full public finding for Hawaii County elections. This ensures that candidates for public funding have the support from the community and that they are viable candidates and should be given the opportunity to run for elected office. Each candidate will collect $5 from 200 registered voters signing the petition in support of their candidacy. This legislation will level the playing field for all candidates running for Hawaii County Council seats.
Now there is a reason to check "yes" on your state income tax line to contribute to the public election fund. If the pilot project is given $500,000 per election, two candidates from each County Council District can use the fund. The fund balance as of Dec. 31, 2007, was more than $5 million with project contributions totaling $820,000 per two-year election cycle. There is certainly enough money to fund this pilot project.
In the states of Arizona and Maine where comprehensive public funding is law, the election process focuses on the public interest than on private interest. In these states, voters are given the control of politics, rather than the lobbyists with their special interest monies. Due to changed perceptions, the many residents seem to have regained their faith in the "election system" and have returned to the voting booths, resulting in increased voter turnout in states with full public funding of elections. In the state of Hawaii, voter turnout has been decreasing with each election, apparently due to the lack of faith residents have in their elected officials and doubts about their ability to affect the outcome of elections. Many believe that once elected, the politician must "repay" campaign contributions, so that only people with money are represented. Even if this is not the case, large contributions from corporate or special interest groups have a great impact on who is elected to public office.
In addition, the cost of financing a campaign has increased, making only those individuals with personal money or special interest money able to effectively finance a campaign. This barrier eliminates many from ever trying to run for office. With publicly funded elections, candidates can run without having to "take" money from anyone. It also allows more time for candidates to focus on the issues related to their district or, in the case of incumbents, it allows them to focus on doing their job of representing their constituents rather than spending time on fundraising.
In Hawaii County more than 1,500 signatures were gathered and the council passed Resolution No. 41-07 on Feb. 22, 2007, and No. 439-08 on Jan. 28, 2008, to support HB 661 and its intention to comprehensively fund Hawaii County Council elections and to be the pilot project. These men and women are committed to demonstrate that comprehensively public funded elections can and will work.
This will take the corporations, special interest groups and developers out of control of elections through their donations to candidates that support their issues. This will allow candidates with a variety of views to run successfully for office. Further, publicly funded elections will allow nontraditional candidates who don't have the economic means or connections to people with money to run successfully for public office.
I urge you to contact your state representatives and let them know of your support for HB 661. Now is the time for comprehensive public funding at elections to be enacted.
Bob Jacobson represents District 6 in the Hawaii County Council and is the chairman of the Committee on Environmental Management.