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Winter 2004

2004 State Council
At the Legislature (Jean Aoki)
Bottle Bill Survives Legislature (Malama Souza)
Berkeley City Council Places Public Funding on November Ballot (Jean Aoki)
Viewpoint: Campaign Finance Reform (Grace Furukawa)
Mark Your Calendars
Report from Kauai (Carol Bain)
East Hawaii Report (Lois Cecil)

Viewpoint: Campaign Finance Reform

The following Viewpoint is solely the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect any official position adopted by the League of Women Voters of Hawaii or its affiliates.

A recent editorial in the Honolulu Star Bulletin correctly noted that campaign spending reform is a bad joke. The legislature, after posturing again about its concern for reform and promising changes, not only did nothing but actually increased the loopholes for special-interest money to come to legally and illegally to candidates. So afraid are incumbents of losing their seats in the legislature, they forget they are elected to do something for the public.

Who are these "special interests" that donate so much money? For starters, contractors who want contracts with the city or state; Hawaiian Electric Company which wants to keep control of the power industry by slowing down or even preventing the development of renewable energy resources; the tobacco industry who wants to prevent those who sue them from collecting any money as long as possible; the petroleum companies who make enormous profits but continue to gouge the public because they can, and so on. These "special interests" are those who give money to candidates and legislators, before and after an election, to get something that benefits them financially whether it is in the interests of the public or not.

In contrast, there are other groups who lobby for the benefit of others who work hard as volunteers or at a modest salary to pass legislation which is in the interest of the public. These non-profits include League of Women Voters, the Pro -Democracy Initiative, Advocates for Consumer Rights, Life of the Land, the Women's Coalition, Sierra Club, Kokua Council, Hawaii Clean Election Coalition, and the Interfaith Alliance to name just a few. There is a distinct difference between "special interest" and "public interest."

Let's look at the proposed Comprehensive Public Funding of Election Campaigns legislation which is aimed at keep practically all "special interest" money out of campaigns. For the sixth year in a row, this bill died; however, this time the House couldn't blame Senator Cal Kawamoto and his colleagues. House members killed the reform that makes all other reforms possible. The House leadership did it all by themselves.

After promising all kinds of reforms, it is obvious that legislators really want NO CHANGE. Candidates, primarily the incumbents, are afraid they have so alienated their support base that they couldn't get the required 100-150 signatures and $5.00 donations which would make them eligible for full public funding. They are afraid that community activists might be able to unseat the incumbents. They are so afraid they won't get enough money fast enough to counter attack ads, even if that money is in their coffers.

Even when the administrator from the state of Maine was explaining how well it works there, they remained afraid. They are afraid to lose "special-interests" money they have relied in the past. Legislators are afraid of change. They have lost the ability to look ahead, to take a progressive stance, to take care of the "little guys & gals," to keep in touch with their base.

These folks want to get re-elected, but why? To do what? If they can't answer that question, then they are there for a power fix. And who needs that?

Grace Furukawa

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