Chair Rhoads, Vice-Chair Buenaventura, and Committee Members
The League of Women Voters of Hawaii strongly supports the intent of HB1183, which proposes full public funding for candidates for the office of State Senator and State Representative. We have several suggestions which we believe should be incorporated in any future version of this measure.
The League of Women Voters, both nationally and in Hawai`i, has long recognized the importance of reining in the reliance of political election campaigns on major contributions from private organizations and a small number of very wealthy individuals. A large share of the general public has become concerned about this problem following the SCOTUS decision in Citizens United. In Hawai`i, the most recent election cycle demonstrated the unbalanced campaign contributions, including many from outside the State, which many citizens fear distorts election results and even the policy decisions of elected officials compared to an election system in which each citizen’s vote would have equal weight in determining election results and equal access to elected officials. In addition, the really distressing amount of time candidates, and those elected, have to spend “chasing campaign dollars”, distracts from a rational attention to issues and constituents’ interests.
For these reasons the intent of HB1183, to create a system of full publicly-funded campaigns, is not only appealing but seems indeed critically important. We are grateful that legislators have taken to heart the success of Act 244, the pilot study of public funding on Hawai`i Island.
Please consider our specific comments on HB1183:
1. Section 11 E a). The number of signatures and contributions should be proportional to the population of electoral districts. If possible, a more convenient way for residents of a candidate’s district to show financial support should be incorporated, given that very many people no longer use paper checks, and money orders are very inconvenient.
2. Section 11-G c). “Near depletion” is not adequate to help the Campaign Spending Commission (CSC) regulate the funding.
3. Section 3 c) permits use of Election Campaign fund for CSC operating expenses. This use distorts the purpose of the HECF as presented to taxpayers on their income tax forms. It is inappropriate to fund operating expenses for a state agency or office from voluntary contributions. The General Fund should pay operating expenses for the CSC, which virtually everyone recognizes serves a critical function in ensuring accountability and transparency in the election process.
4. Section 11-J f) provides that no public funds will be provided to certified candidates if they are unopposed in the General Election. Certified candidates unopposed in the primary are still, however, allowed to receive public funds. The League believes the intent of this is to allow the unopposed primary candidate to build name and issue recognition during the whole electoral season, just as primary candidates who are opposed can. This distinction between unopposed primary and general funding has been confusing to some readers; it would be helpful in this and other unclear sections to describe the specific rationale for the distinction, in the introduction to the bill.
5. Section 4 d) 5) which excludes House and Senate candidates from limitation of expenditures to specific amounts per voter, is one paragraph which unfortunately dismantles the partial public funding option for House and Senate races. It is very important to keep in place and even improve the partial public funding option for the likely event that, at least initially, the HECF will not be able to support full public funding for all certified candidates.
The following comments are not tied to specific sections of HB 1183:
1) The primary problem with this measure is that it is too ambitious for the near term. Without significant investment of General Funds into the HECF (and of course using General Funds for operating expenses of the CSC), there is no way the HECF will be able to support full public funding for both House and Senate races. We believe there are several more reasonable and conservative ways to initiate full public funding, e.g. for only one Legislative House, or for House and Senate seats in only one County. Such a measure would allow the CSC to develop procedures and evaluate the effectiveness of enabling legislation and its procedures before expanding full public funding (which the League supports whole heartedly).
2) As usual, for future campaigns using the CPI to index any specific dollar amounts specified, will make it less likely that inflation will render a public funding program insufficient to attract, meaningfully certify, and fund candidates.
We urge you to carefully consider this testimony and others you are receiving on HB1183. Thank you for considering this forward–looking measure, and for the opportunity to submit testimony.