Activists will urge the state Legislature next session to expand the state’s partial public-funding program for political candidates.
The program, created in 1978, is obsolete, activists believe, because candidates are not able to receive enough public money to be competitive. Candidates who meet the qualifying threshold are eligible for public financing for their campaigns but have to abide by spending limits.
Activists argue that Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on politics, has led to more special interest money in local campaigns. Activists cite as an example the independent spending by the Pacific Resource Partnership, an alliance between contractors and union carpenters, to influence the Honolulu mayor’s race.
“The United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision basically created a situation where there is a flood of private money moving into the election system. We’re seeing this in Hawaii, as well as nationwide, and now is really the time for us to renew and modernize and upgrade the statewide partial public-funding system that has been in place since 1978 during the constitutional convention,” said Kory Payne, executive director of Voter Owned Hawaii, an interest group that favors public financing.
State Rep. Chris Lee (D, Kailua-Lanikai-Waimanalo) said the influence of independent spending by interests such as PRP should not become the norm in local elections.
“I think in the wake of Citizens United and an election season that’s been dominated by money more so than any other in the history of the nation, it’s important that we recapture our democracy and make sure that everybody’s voice is going to be heard regardless of how much money and how much wealth they have to pour into the political process,” Lee said.