What are Voter-Owned Elections? Also known as
"Clean" or "Fair Elections"?
Clean, or Fair Elections refers to a type of campaign finance reform. A comprehensive public funding option for elections is essentially what the program provides. This type of system allows candidates to choose to either a) run their campaign the traditional way -- raising private money, or b) attempt to qualify for full public funding.
In 2008, Hawaii became the 9th state in the country to implement a comprehensive public funding program by creating a pilot program for Big Island County Council elections beginning with the 2010 elections.
Since the 1978 Constitutional Convention, Hawaii has had a partial public funding program (different than a comprehensive public funding program). This program will continue to exist, but in addition, the Big island County Council will test a full public funding option beginning with the 2010 elections.
How Does It Work?
In order to qualify, candidates have to:
1. Collect a set number of signatures from registered voters in their district. Each signature must be accompanied with a $5 contribution. (The number of signatures is set at a level that challenges the candidates in order for them to prove that they have a legitimate amount of support in their district, but not so many signatures that it’s too difficult for anyone to participate)
2. Agree not to raise any money from private sources.
3. Abide by the rules of the program.
Candidates who qualify for public funding are then issued a base allotment of money in order to begin their campaign.
Why Is This Good And Why Does It Work?
Right now, candidates are getting paid with taxpayer dollars to spend a huge percentage of their time raising money from people whose interests are very often directly opposed to those of the taxpayers and the public. This is blatant conflict of interest. We don’t allow plaintiffs or defendants in court to pay off judges who are interpreting the law, so why would we want special interests to pay for our elected official’s races?
The lawmaking process is so important it could be considered sacred. Laws dictate how we act and behave, and as a reult, how we evolve as humans. This responsibility should be taken seriously. By enabling a lawmaking arena that is hooked on special interest money, we're creating a scene of cynicism and childish irresponsibility.
Providing a comprehensive public funding option for elections gives candidates a choice in how they want to fundraise for their campaign and that, in turn, gives taxpayers more choices in candidates.
This invigorates elections because more candidates are running for office and because the style of campaigning is more grassroots-oriented. Overall, public funding increases voter turnout and candidate participation and it builds trust between taxpayers and legislators. In the long run, it creates an atmosphere of policy-making that is better for the economy, the environment, and for public health.
How Much Money Do Qualified Candidates Get?
Candidates who qualify for public funds are given the average amount of money that it takes to win that particular office and district. For example, if an average race for district judge costs $30,000, then the candidate is given that amount. They may spend more than the $30,000 (up to twice the original allotment) if a competing candidate outspends the publicly financed candidate. This ensures that candidates stay competitive, while at the same time making sure unnecessary funds are not depleted from the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund.
How Much Does It Cost The State To Run The Program?
It’s almost impossible to calculate this number. Many times, the influence of private money on policy-making costs taxpayers in ways that are not easily recognized. For example, a zoning law may be changed in order to allow for a project that expands too far and ends up costing taxpayers money to extend road, water, and sewer services beyond the state’s means. Also, for example, drug companies or health insurance companies may push for policies that leave taxpayers, hospitals, and small businesses dependent upon a very expensive system that breaks people’s banks.
For Hawaii County, the estimated cost is no more than $500,000 every two years.
How Would Hawaii Pay For It?
In the 1978 Constitutional Convention, Hawaii voters chose to create the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund and create a partial public funding system, and at the same time created the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund, which the state is bound to pay for according to the Hawaii Constitution.
Currently, the Hawaii Election Campaign fund has over $4.6 million (July 2010).
Unfortunately, there was no mechanism in the 1978 version of the program to adjust for inflation and other factors. As a result, the current program does not give publicly funded candidates enough money to run a competitive campaign.
Some members of the current state House and Senate would like to keep it that way. Others are working to restore the promise of the old system by upgrading and modernizing it by working for Clean Elections, Fair Elections, or Voter-Owned Elections statewide.