Tuesday, January 16, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, January 16, 2001

House Democrats pushing publicly funded campaigns

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Honolulu City Council candidates would be given up to $80,000 each to run their campaigns next year under a bill House Democrats are pushing.

The House majority is trying again to pass legislation for publicly financed campaigns, which proponents say will free politicians from obligations to special interests. A similar measure died last year after it was held in the Senate Transportation and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.

Rep. Brian Schatz (D-Makiki, Tantalus) said the legislation has a better chance this session because three states already have tried publicly financed campaigns. In Maine, 62 lawmakers — a third of the Legislature — ran as publicly financed candidates last year.

"We have proof that it works," Schatz said.

Under the bill House Democrats are introducing, the state would establish a public-financed elections pilot program for the 2002 Honolulu City Council elections. Candidates would have to collect $2 contributions from 250 people in their district to qualify for the program. Participating candidates would be given $40,000 for the primary election and $40,000 for the general election.

The bill would also give the state Campaign Spending Commission $150,000 for additional staff to run the program.

Commission Executive Director Bob Watada said he has reservations about the proposal and he doesn’t think many people would participate because the qualifying contributions would be too difficult and because the amount candidates would be given is insufficient to underwrite a campaign. The cost of City Council races runs about $100,000, he said.

Watada also said Maine candidates tend to spend a fraction of what Hawaii candidates spend and that campaign reform should be tackled in other ways, such as prohibiting corporate contributions.

Senate President Robert Bunda (D-Wahiawa, Waialua) said he’s open to the House’s proposal and "generally favors" publicly financed campaigns.

Schatz said House Democrats also are looking at automatic recounts for close races and guidelines for challenging election results other than filing complaints with the State Supreme Court.

House Democrats will discuss their campaign reform initiatives today.

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