AS usual the news media and the government reformers have missed an important part of the picture in campaign spending reform.
While the debate for years has always been on the huge amount of money it takes candidates to run and win, the focus has always been on what happens in the election year.
To be sure, it is a lot of money. Last year, for instance, candidates for all state and county races spent a total of $15.4 million, according to figures tallied by the state Campaign Spending Commission.
But they also spent $4.3 million in the three years before the election.
The figures show that campaign spending is not a one-year affair. Raising and spending money are not things that happen just during election years.
The media and the reformers break out the calculators and spreadsheets for elections, but we should all be spending some more time on the off-year campaign bankrolls.
Here's some gleaning from the latest Campaign Spending Commission research.
Look at Gov. Ben Cayetano's campaign for re-election. While he spent $1.6 million in the general election and $1.9 million in the primary election, he also spent $1.1 million or 23 percent of his total spending in the three years before he was actively running.
The really interesting numbers are in House and Senate races. If you look at the winners, they spent more in the years before the election than they did in the election year.
Altogether the victorious senators spent $1.3 million in four years. Of that $521,831 was spent in the first three years of their terms.
State House figures are more tilted to the campaign year, with the winners spending almost $2 million, with $664,605 before 1998. But House candidates run every two years, while senators have four years to raise and spend money.
If you want to say hello to some off-season big spenders, let me introduce you to the Honolulu City Council.
The Council members spent 53 percent of their campaign bucks in the three years before they ran for re-election.
Councilman Duke Bainum, who spent $628,000 in his successful re-election bid, doled out about a third of that in the three years before 1998. And Donna Mercado Kim, who spent $188,000 in getting re-elected, spent $123,000 before the race began.
Rene Mansho, Andy Mirikitani, Jon Yoshimura, Mufi Hannemann and John DeSoto also spent more in off-election years than when they were actually campaigning.
The losers, however, show that they are not spending money in off-election years. That makes sense because if you aren't in office it is hard to run a four-year campaign. You don't see anyone who is out of office holding a neighborhood legislative briefing, do you?
LEGISLATORS and council members campaign all year. There are funerals, birthdays, athletic teams, graduations and anniversaries -- all needing a small donation.
The governor and the lieutenant governor need the money for political research and to spread around to move their own causes either in direct paid commercials or in support of candidates or programs.
The other half of all this off-year spending is off-year fund-raising. This is where the public attention must be refocused.
It is in the off-year that campaigns are won. The person who can raise and spend the money in the off-year, when attention is not on the race, is likely to be the person who wins come the election year.
Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com