May 25, 2009

HI tries public campaign financing

Posted in Election reform, Elections, public campaign financing, voter owned elections tagged , , at 3:32 pm by bluebanshee

The Aloha state’s first publicly funded elections will be tested on the Big Island next year.  Hawaii will join jurisdictions throughout the U.S. that are instituting the public financing option.

Candidates for city council will need to make a decision by February 1, 2010 if they wish to participate.  Meanwhile, there is a lot of work to do in developing rules and procedures.

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.

Hawaii follows the example of Arizona and Maine, which already have robust statewide programs that provide funding to candidates for public office. In both states the governors and other top officials choose to participate in public financing, expressing relief that they do not have to spend the majority of their time fundraising and can instead focus on listening to voters.

In a very similar program to what is being proposed for Hawaii’s Big Island county, The City of Portland, Oregon, had their first successful  City Council member elected using the “Voter Owned Elections” program.  Amanda Fritz was elected to Portland City council on her second try.  She has said that she learned a lot the first time and would not have been able to run at all if it were not for the public financing provided by the city’s Voter Owned Elections program.

Big Island candidates will have the option of participating in the new program in 2010.  They will have to declare their intent to use public funds beginning Feb. 1 by submitting 200 signatures and 200 $5 donations each.

This is similar to the Portland program in that minimum contributions and signatures will be required in order to prove support for a candidacy.   However, Portland requires higher threshold of contributions and signatures — 1,000  for those running  for city council and 1,500 for mayoral candidates.  Detailed rules for the Portland program  have been developed and can be found online at the link below.    Those developing the campaign funding program for Hawaii would be well advised to use the lessons learned in Portland and elsewhere (e.g., Albuquerque NM, Maine, Arizona) in designing their program.

Proponents of the new Hawaii program realize that they have just taken the first step and will need to work hard to make the program successful.  However, the goal of greater citizen involvement in politics make it worthwhile, according to the executive director of the leading organization promoting public campaign financing in the Aloha state:

“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.”

Note: additional information about Portland’s Voter Owned Elections can be found at:


1 Comment »

  1. Matt said,

    Congrats to our friends in Hawaii! Nice job. We’ll update Hawaii’s info at

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