Don't delay project for election funding


POSTED: Sunday, March 08, 2009

Last year's Legislature enacted a law creating a pilot project for public funding of Hawaii County Council elections as a test for potential statewide application. Opponents of the project now are seeking its postponement under the ruse that the U.S. Supreme Court has rendered it unconstitutional. The court ruling had no such effect and the pilot program should go ahead as scheduled in next year's election.

Under the test program, a Big Island council candidate could qualify to receive up to an estimated $40,000 to $60,000 for primary and general elections and be limited to that amount of campaign expenditure. The funding is derived from a pool now amounting to $5.5 million created by income tax check-offs in which $2.7 million is added every two years. Candidates who decline to participate may spend as much as they want.

Politicians who prefer the old-fashioned way contend that a Supreme Court ruling last June rendered the project unconstitutional. Actually, the ruling had nothing to do with public funding of elections.

Instead, it struck down a federal rule that allowed opponents of U.S. House candidates who spend more than $350,000 to receive triple the usual amounts — $6,900 instead of $2,300 — from individual contributors. It was called the “;millionaire's amendment”; because it imposed special rules in races involving rich candidates who finance their own campaigns, and it had nothing to do with public funding.

The Big Island project is patterned after a system that has been successful in Arizona and Maine and is scheduled to be in effect on the Big Island for three consecutive elections, beginning in 2010.