Big Island testing publicly funding elections
HILO, Hawaii — Hawaii’s first publicly funded elections will be tested on the Big Island next year.
Despite concerns about cost and complexity, state lawmakers backed off from efforts to delay the project until 2014. Instead, it will go ahead as planned when the law passed last year.
That means Big Island County Council candidates will have the option of relying on public money for the 2010 elections.
Candidates may declare their intent to use public funds beginning Feb. 1 by submitting 200 signatures and 200 $5 donations each.
“This program is designed to be inclusive and to get people re-integrated into the process, the political process,” said Kory Payne, executive director of Voter-Owned Hawaii, which pushed for the law. “There’s always going to be potential improvements that got to be made, which is why it’s a pilot program.”
The state Campaign Spending Commission must comply with the law by hiring and training new staff, creating an online filing system, creating a candidate’s guide, providing training classes and developing an independent and nonpartisan review committee for the funding program.
“We have a long way to go,” said commission Executive Director Barbara Wong. “There’s a lot of questions that need to be asked as we’ve gone through the law.”
Candidates would be granted money based on a formula that considers the average amount spent by winning candidates in the last two County Council elections, minus 10 percent. Candidates wouldn’t be allowed to accept any outside money.
The public funding program is capped at $300,000 for all races combined. There is about $5.5 million in the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund.
According to the formula, candidates accepting public money for the council seats now held by J Yoshimoto and Guy Enriques would be eligible for more than $37,000 each in a contested primary election. But thanks to the low-budget campaigns of 8th District Councilmen Angel Pilago and Kelly Greenwell, candidates for that seat would get just $752 in base funds.
The pilot program could be challenged again in the 2010 Legislature, but the author of the bill to delay its implementation said he doesn’t plan to re-introduce it.
“We have a $300,000 cap, so the first candidates who apply for this will receive the funds. So first come, first served. what happens to the ones that come in later and the $300,000 is taken up? Is that fair?” asked Rep. Jerry Chang, D-Piihonua-Kaumana, at a recent public meeting.
In addition to the $300,000, the state will have to spend about $100,000 in administrative costs, Wong said.
Hawaii County Clerk Ken Goodenow estimated it would cost another $70,000 in county funds to comply with the law, including the requirement to verify signatures.
Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hilohawaiitribune.com