House Bill 2533 Moves for Citizen-Funded Elections

The House Committee on the Judiciary today passed legislation that would revive Hawaii’s old partial public funding program for elections, which was originally implemented in 1980 by a mandate from citizens during the Constitutional Convention.

HB 2533

Representative Karl Rhoads (D – dist 29), Judiciary Chariman, said “Today was an important step in moving HB 2533 through the legislative process.  I’m hopeful that by the end of the legislative session we’ll have a viable public financing option for House candidates.”

House Bill 2533 would create a citizen-funding option for state House elections.  Last year a similar bill, HB1481, made it to the final hour of a Conference Committee, where it was stopped, but carried over to the 2014 Legislative Session and is still alive.  Advocates are counting on one of these bills to pass this year.

According to Carmille Lim, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, “This bill is one of the most significant democracy reform measures currently before the Hawaii Legislature. HB2533 has the potential to change Hawaii’s political landscape by requiring the candidates who opt-in to this program to focus on the concerns of the average constituent, instead of large donations from the wealthy donors and special interests who currently have a stronghold on Hawaii’s politics.”

A similar experimental program was implemented on the Big Island for County Council elections in 2010 and 2012 and was considered a success by citizens and candidates.

House Bill 2533 would allow candidates to go out and collect 200 signatures, accompanied with $5 donations, from voters in their districts, in exchange for a sum of money from the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund with which to run their campaigns.  The Election Fund, a special trust fund, currently has $2.9 million dollars and was established during the ’78 Constitutional Convention for the purpose of limiting the influence of private money on the lawmaking process.

“Delegates in the ’79 Constitutional Convention knew that big donations would corrupt politics, and they were visionary when they created the citizen-funded elections program,” said Kory Payne, executive director for Voter Owned Hawaii.  “Over time, legislators have let the program decay in favor of more private funding, so we applaud the legislators who are making an effort to revive this epic law,” he said.

The Election Fund is funded by an option three dollar check-off on state income tax forms.  The three dollars is allocated from tax money that an individual would already pay to the state.

Robert Harris, executive director of the Sierra Club agrees with the bill’s advocates.  “Developers and polluters pour millions of dollars into elections every year,” said Robert Harris, Director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii. “Clean elections help ensure smart growth development and clean water for all of Hawaii’s residents.”

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