June 28th, 2011

Publicly financed candidates for Hawaii County Council will likely no longer be eligible for extra money to compete against big-spending opponents after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Monday struck down a similar law in Arizona.

The court, in a 5-4 decision, held that an Arizona law which provided publicly funded candidates with matching funds to compete against privately financed candidates and independent interest groups “substantially burdens political speech” protected by the First Amendment.

A Hawaii County pilot project offers similar equalizing funds to publicly financed candidates who are outspent by privately financed opponents, a provision modeled after the Arizona law.

“We believe it’s going to impact the program,” said Kristin Izumi-Nitao, the executive director of the state Campaign Spending Commission, which oversees the pilot project.

The pilot project was approved by the state Legislature in 2008 to test the viability of publicly financed political campaigns over three county council election cycles in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

Eight council candidates received about $150,000 in public funding under the project in 2010 and four were elected – three incumbents and one newcomer. None of the candidates received any equalizing funds because their opponents did not reach the threshold.

Kory Payne, the executive director of Voter Owned Hawaii, which supports public financing for candidates, said a majority on the Supreme Court appears intent on giving the wealthy an even greater influence in politics.

He said the court’s decision Monday — in Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett – was in the same vein as the court’s ruling last year – in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission – that allowed unlimited independent political spending by corporations.

“Wealthy elites and people who have access to more capital are going to have more “speech” than average Americans,” Payne said.

Voter Owned Hawaii, Common Cause Hawaii and other interest groups will ask state lawmakers next year to amend the pilot project to respond to the court’s ruling. A bill that stalled in committee this year would have given publicly financed candidates a 4 to 1 match on small donations to help them compete against privately financed opponents, an adjustment that may not have the constitutional risk of equalizing funds.

“I don’t see why they would not pass” the bill next year, Payne said of House and Senate leaders.

But the Campaign Spending Commission is concerned that the bill has no trigger for publicly financed candidates to demonstrate that they need the 4 to 1 match to compete, so candidates could stockpile public funds.

2 Responses to “Matching”

  1. Kolea:

    The “logic” now dominating US jurisprudence is that political advocacy is free speech, whether it is about issues or to promote the election of a candidate and cannot be restrained, out side of the traditional restrictions about “yelling fire,” and in “inappropriate” time or place.

    This conflicts with the reformist view that greater wealth allows advocates to purchase massive delivery systems which drown out contrary voices. A metaphor appropriate to the reformist view is that of the traditional New England “town meeting,” where every resident of the town has an equal chance to speak and be heard. The notion that the process would be distorted by allowing one side to employee bullhorns while the others are speaking is anathma to this idealized notion of egalitarian democracy.

    Big money has been engaged in a conscious strategy of promoting its view that rich people deserve to have more “free speech” than regular folks for decades. Big money has gone into establishing conservative “think tanks” like the various regional “Legal Foundations,” like the Mountain States Legal Foundation and the Pacific Legal Foundation, which covers Hawaii. These foundations were largely funded in the initial days by Coors family money, Richard Mellon Scaife and the Olin Foundation. These were the “Koch Brothers” of the recent past.

    The corporate view is at odds with the more Jeffersonian view which is shared by both liberals and the populist conservatives: that all Americans deserve a right to to heard. But the corporate wing of the GOP controls the purse-strings of the Tea Party, owns the major media on the Right (Fox News and Clear Channel talk radio) and the “populist” conservatives have been reduced to functioning as a “rent-a-mob” for their corporate masters.

    Can Kory Payne, Voter Owned Elections and Common Cause craft a partial solution to the problem of corporate domination of our political system here in Democrat-controlled Hawaii? Unfortunately, the Federal courts’ interpretation of “free speech” will trump the views of our Legislature and state Supreme Court.

    But if Payne thinks he can out-maneuver the legal minds of the rightwing Federalist Society with a bill, he should start by talking to the key legislators in the Square Building to find an answer to the bewilderment expressed in his question: “I don’t see why they would not pass” the bill next year. Just yesterday I talked with one of those legislators on exactly this matter. The bill needs work and Payne has not reached out to legislators to fix the bill.

  2. Walking Vaughn:

    This law was passed to pay a candidate to defeat Guy Enriques in Kau Council race on the Big Island. That objective has been achievedd and now the law is dead.

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