September 1998 Home   Newsletters

October 1998

November-December 1998

Update on Campaign Finance Reform - HI.CLEAN (Toni Worst)
President's Message (Grace Furukawa)
Board of Education Survey (Pearl Johnson)
Education Committee (Mary Anne Raywid)
Annual Vigil
Elections That Are For Sale Are Not Free (Marilyn Bornhorst)
Final Push on Con Con and the Amendment (Jean Aoki)
Survey on Gambling in Hawaii (Dorothy Bobilin)
Candidates in Focus (Pearl Johnson)

Elections That Are For Sale Are Not Free

Money wins, right? Right! In the 1996 Hawaii elections, out of 64 races for office, 55 were won by the candidate who spent the most money. On average, winners spent almost 3 times as much as losers. Where two candidates were more closely matched (less than 2 to 1) the amount of money spent didn't have much impact on the outcome. The average Senate money raised in 1996 was $101,000, House $40,000.

Where does all that money come from? Not most of us. About 1% of registered voters give over $200.

This summer I represented Hawaii Clean Elections at a Public Campaign conference in Washington D.C. The organization has developed a Clean Elections model law to guide local jurisdictions. The heart of the law is that a government should provide qualified candidates enough public money to run, get their. message out, and be elected.

The clean elections candidates must collect enough very small donations from supporters, in their own districts, to show they are serious contenders. And that is all the private donations they take. They spend only the amount of public money they are allotted. Opponents who decide not to participate in public financing can take private donations and spend ill the money they can get.

The key to success under the model law is the clean elections participant gets enough money to be competitive - to get under that 2 to 1 ratio. The amount is based on the average spent in the last few elections.

Voters in Tucson, Arizona passed a similar law 10 years ago, and their cost of elections hasn't risen since. Maine passed the model law by initiative and will test it this fall. Massachusetts expect to pass theirs by initiative this year. But their initiative powers don't apply to taxation, so they still have to deal with their legislature. Arizona, Oregon, and New York City have initiatives that may pass this year. And 40 other states are somewhere in the process.

States like Hawaii without initiative laws have a harder time. So far only Vermont has succeeded in getting its Legislature to pass the law. Connecticut came very close last year. So did Hawaii. And this was Hawaii's first try.

Senators Matt Matsunaga and Avery Chumbley introduced our bill in the 1998 session. The Senate passed it. It was amended nearly to death in the House. What finally passed was a bill authorizing a study by the State's Campaign Finance Commission in conjunction with the Hi-Clean Alliance of a possible bill for a pilot project for selected races for the election of 2002.

The Hawaii Clean Election Alliance made up of League of Women Voters, Common Cause, Green Party, UH student organizations, and many other active groups will be participating in the study. Although the bill has been endorsed by many Neighborhood Boards and the Democratic Party, there needs to be a lot more involvement by voters. While surveys show most people care about campaign finance reform, it is a third tier issue, behind jobs, education, environment, and social issues.

The study may be a way to make the unorganized voter aware campaign finance reform is basic. As long as we choose our candidates by the status quo question, "Can she get the money to run?" we won't make much headway on jobs, education, environment, or anything else that benefits us all. The big players who have the election money to elect candidates friendly to them will still have things slanted their way.

How much of the high cost of living in Hawaii comes from the chunk of money businesses give to malleable politicians? Union leaders parcel out money and workers aiming to protect their interests. The established actors in the present setup defend it. They know their place in the current balance of power, and are afraid to lose that position.

One of the questions people ask is why should taxpayers pay for candidates to run for Office? The answer is - so we can have them accountable to us. We must do total public financing to create an incentive to cut back on the costs of elections and their control by big donors. , Our only question should be, "Is this the best candidate we can find to represent us all?"

Campaign finance reform is a first tier issue. This is the reform that makes other reforms possible. With the Clean Elections law we can make a basic change in our government.

Marilyn Bornhorst
(Condensed from an article printed in Honolulu Weekly)

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