HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaii’s political system could undergo significant reform as a bill providing public money to finance election campaigns for political candidates has successfully passed both the State House and Senate.
This initiative is designed to eliminate the need for special interest money, which has been linked to corruption in the State.
Get Hawaii’s latest morning news delivered to your inbox, sign up for News 2 You
Notable cases of corruption in Hawaii include former state lawmakers Kalani English and Ty Cullen who were convicted in a bribery scheme and former Honolulu prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, who allegedly targeted someone in exchange for campaign donations.
However, the act of donating large sums of money to a political candidate is currently legal, a fact that many believe contributes to the persistence of corruption.
The new Senate bill, SB 1543, aims to reduce the power of dark money in politics and place it into the hands of voters. State Sen. Karl Rhoads (D) explained the rationale behind the bill.
“If you think about the dynamic of it, those two groups of people that I have to keep happy: my voters and my donors. It doesn’t have to be that way,” said Sen. Rhoads. “It could just be my voters, and this bill would make it so that the only people that I owe anything to politically is my voters.”
The bill would allow candidates for Governor, Mayor, County Council, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, State Legislature or Prosecuting Attorney to raise a threshold of certified $5 donations from registered voters in their district which ranges from hundreds to thousands depending on the office.
If they achieve that and refuse any other campaign financing, they become eligible for public money to pay for their campaign in the primary and general election with up to $2.5 million available for a gubernatorial candidate.
Sen. Rhoads, who wrote the bill, believes the amount provided must be sufficient to help win an election.
“We’ve had a partial public financing system for years [that] very rarely gets used because you can’t get enough money from it to do any good,” said Sen. Rhoads. “So, we need to make sure that the candidates who choose to participate in this system have enough funds to run a competitive campaign.”
The campaign funds would come from tax dollars, the $5 donations, unspent funds to candidates, fines and other donations.
According to the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, “Any proposed system of public financing should provide participating candidates with the opportunity to match the funding of privately financed candidates.”
They went to say that “generous public financing for campaigns in Hawaii would likely create more political competition by leveling the playing field and could be supported by a relatively modest appropriation from general funds.”
The bill has been endorsed by several groups, including Our Hawaii and former Hawaii Governors John Waihee III and Neil Abercrombie, as well as former Mayors JoAnn Yukimura, Harry Kim, and Kirk Caldwell.
Evan Weber, managing director of Our Hawaii, emphasized the importance of the bill.
“This bill is fundamental to the future of Hawaii,” Weber said. “A lot of us have given up on our government doing things that actually benefit us and work for working people.”
He went on explain further.
“We see the price of homes go to a million dollars. We see our water getting poisoned and polluted, and we don’t see a lot of leaders standing up to make change. Money in politics is the reason why that change isn’t happening at the scale and speed that the people of Hawaii need,” added Weber.
The bill is currently in a legislative conference and still faces obstacles before reaching Governor Josh Green’s desk.
Weber urged citizens to make their voices heard and contact Rep. Yamashita and Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, who chair the relevant committees, to ensure the bill progresses.
He emphasized the urgency.
Get news on the go with KHON 2GO, KHON’s morning podcast, every morning at 8
“Even though this bill has tons of popular support, has tons of testimony and has been through all the processes, it still could end up getting yanked by leadership for one reason or another or simply not get funded by the money chair,” said Weber.