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Spring 2006

President's Message: Acting Locally, Working Globally (Sue Irvine)
CEDAW - What is it and why should you care? (JoAnn Maruoka)
Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling (HCALG) (Grace Furukawa)
Eight groups file suit to end secret meetings
Increased public awareness for public funding... (Laure Dillon)
Welfare for Politicians OR Restoring Power to Voters? (Jean Aoki)
Local Reports - Honolulu (Jackie Parnell)
Local Reports - Maui (Joshua Cooper)
Local Reports - Kauai (Carol Bain)
Local Reports - Hawaii (Marianna Scheffer)

Welfare for Politicians OR Restoring Power to Voters?

Financing Presidential Elections

In 2004, President Bush decided he wouldn't opt into the public financing program for the Primary Elections. Howard Dean, after significant success in attracting donors on the internet, decided that Bush would have a strong advantage going into the General Elections if he, Dean, were limited to $45 million in campaign expenditures before the Democratic Convention, should he win the primary – public funds for the General Election not being available until after the parties' national conventions formally recognize the official party candidates. Dean decided not to accept public funds for the primary so that he would have money to spend up to the Democratic Convention. John Kerry followed suit. But both George Bush and John Kerry (the Democratic nominee) – accepted public funds for the General Election - $74.6 million each. Together they raised a total of nearly half a billion dollars for the Primary.

With the raising of money a year-round, all-season necessary activity to compete for major office, how can elected officials stay focused on the major issues of the day and manage without compromising their integrity to meet the expectations of their major contributors once they are in office?

After the Watergate scandals revealed that too much special-interest money was flowing to politicians and their campaigns, among the reforms adopted was the system of public financing of presidential candidates' election campaigns.

If, as happened in the last election, major candidates begin to spurn the public financing system, at least in the primaries, what happens to the major objective of the system: keeping special-interest money from having major impact on the nation's policies?

Some Call for Ending Program

Added to that, there are calls in the U.S. House of Representatives to end the presidential public financing system because of the budgetary demands of assisting the reconstruction of New Orleans and other areas hit by Katrina. But there are suspicions that Katrina is just being used as a pretext for gutting a program that is not popular with some.

Others Recognize Its Worth

A letter sent to each representative and signed by representatives of Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21, League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and US PIRG stated in part,

"The stakes for our political system and democracy are extremely high ... as shown by the important reasons for the presidential financing system:

* Reasonable spending limits for presidential primary and general elections provide the opportunity for competitive races to occur without turning the elections into a nonstop arms race for private contributions and putting presidential candidates on the special interest 'auction' block;

* An effective presidential primary financing system provides the funds necessary to ensure that serious and lesser-known candidates have the resources to communicate their views and an opportunity to compete for their parties' nomination, and that it does not simply go by default to nationally-known 'frontrunners;'

* An effective system for matching small contributions with public funds increases the importance and role of small donors in presidential elections and diminishes the importance of larger donors and, in particular, influence-seeking big-money.

S. 1913 Presidential Funding Act

In a letter sent to each Senator, League President Kay Maxwell asked them to co-sponsor S 1913 introduced by Senators McCain and Feingold which "makes the changes necessary to protect and enhance the voluntary, partial public financing system for presidential primary and general elections.

Below are some of the changes proposed as cited in the letter. Comments in italics are my own.

Increases from 1:1 to 4:1 the public funds match of the first $250 of an individual's total contribution to a primary candidate.

(This is an important change. Actually, the requirement that each candidate raise some money from donors helps indicate those with substantial support from citizens. Only by lessening the actual sums raised from private donors do we begin to meet the three objectives listed above. Another provision that would require broad support for individual candidates is the requirement for raising at least $5,000 in at least each of 20 states. The bill now raises the minimum of $5,000 to $15,000.)

Eliminates state-by state primary spending limits,

(To devise winning strategies, candidates must be given flexibility in determining where and how much to spend in the different regions of the country.)

Increases the overall primary spending limit from $45 million to $75 million,

(Although the spending limit is indexed to inflation, the cost of campaigning has risen beyond the inflation rate, due in part to the increased dependency on television ads to get their messages to voters. The low spending limit has driven candidates to opting out of the system. It is important to remember that the spending limit is not what candidates get. This is a matching funds program so that candidates must raise some money which is then matched by government contributions.)

Advances the starting date for payments to primary candidates to July 1 of the year preceding the election.

Requires a candidate to participate in the public financing system for both primary and general elections in order to receive public funds for either,

(This is a must in order to justify a public financing system at all. The whole aim of the system is nullified when candidates are allowed to raise money furiously in the primary and then depend on public money for the general.)

Provides a mechanism for participating candidates to respond if a nonparticipating candidate raises or spends more than one-third above spending limits. (In the above scenario, the expenditure limit for the participating candidate would be raised 100%. However, the bill does not provide matching funds for that increase in allowable expenditures.)

Increases the amount of the check-off on the tax form to fund the public financing system from $3 to $6 for an individual and from $6 to $12 for a married couple.

(The public must be made aware that checking of the square on one's tax form does not increase one's taxes. The $3 from the taxes you already owe goes into the special elections fund instead of into the general fund. The bill requires the Federal Election Commission to conduct a program to inform and educate the public regarding the purposes of the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, and another provision requires the Secretary to promulgate regulations to insure that electronic software used in the preparation or filing of individual income tax returns does not automatically accept or reject a designation of a payment under this section.)

IN OUR BATTLE FOR IMPROVING THE HEALTH — EVEN THE VERY SURVIVAL — OF DEMOCRACY, THE PRESERVATION AND IMPROVEMENT OF THE PRESIDENTIAL PUBLIC FINANCING SYSTEM IS AN IMPORTANT STRATEGIC MOVE.

Jean Aoki
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