Judiciary Chair Senator Karl Rhoads Announces “Clean Elections” Bill Alongside Anti-Corruption Advocates and Legislators
Bill would provide for full publicly financed elections and make critical headway to get Big Money out of politics
News Release from OurHawaii.org, Jan 9, 2023
HONOLULU, Hawaiʻi — On Monday morning, January 9th, 2023, Senator Rhoads gathered with a bipartisan and bicameral group of legislators and allies from civil society to introduce Clean Elections legislation at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol. This bill would help get Big Money out of our political system and put an end to one of the main causes of the pay-to-play corruption that is increasingly front and center in Hawaiʻi’s politics, and voters minds — with polling showing last year it was the third top issue for voters, behind only housing and inflation.
All the speakers at the press conference shared a common refrain: the influence that money has over our politics must come to an end. The Clean Elections legislation is intended to complement the important, but insufficient, recommendations from the "Commission to Increase Standards of Conduct" created by the House last year. Until we provide a way for candidates to run competitive, clean elections without relying on private donors, we will have a democracy that is captured by the highest bidders. It’s time Hawai’i join the other states that have fully publicly financed election systems, and create a clean election program.
Current System Creates Corruption or the Perception of It - With candidates needing to ask for private donors to fund their campaigns, these relationships can lead to undemocratic results. Money is crucial to victory as candidates who outspend their opponent win at a 91% rate. Political influence is highly concentrated as over half of all campaign donations came from only 980 donors who each gave over $6,000.
Clean Elections Now - The state must provide full public financing of campaigns. Candidates who receive sufficient $5 donations from their constituents would be eligible for funding. The candidates that choose to participate would be barred from raising or spending private funds. This would help get money out of politics, lead to much more competitive elections, and bring a diverse group of candidates who otherwise couldn’t afford to run. These programs are very popular in Hawai’i with over 74% of voters preferring candidates who support fully publicly funded elections.
Low Cost to the State - Estimates show that this would cost the state less than $25 million per year, less than 0.2% of the state budget. This would be less than a $3 annual visitor fee or revenues from marijuana legalization. With an over $2.6 billion surplus in state coffers, Hawai’i could pay for over 100 years of Clean Elections.
WHY THEY ARE SUPPORTING CLEAN ELECTIONS:
“Publicly funded elections are in voters’ best interest. Political careers should be completely dependent on voters, not special interest money,” said Judiciary Chair Senator Karl Rhoads who will introduce and champion the bill in his committee, the committee of primary jurisdiction.
“This reform is critical in helping end the negative impact money has on our elections,” said the Honorable Former Governor John David Waiheʻe III
“Too often our public interest is held hostage by special interests that seek to undermine our pursuit of the common good. To restore faith in our government, we must reclaim our elections from political profiteers and the donor class,” said Working Families Caucus Chair Representative Jeanné Kapela in announcing her support for the legislation. “That is why I support the enactment of a strong public financing program for our state’s elections. Instead of being controlled by corporations and the wealthy, local campaigns should respond to the demands of ‘we the people.’ We know that public funding programs work. In 2010 and 2012, on my home island, Hawaiʻi island employed a robust public financing program for county elections, proving this is a matter of political will, not tax revenue.”
“Money should have no place in the people that get into these offices and represent the people of Hawaiʻi,” said incoming Senator-elect Brenton Awa in announcing his support for the bill.
“The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that the methods of financing political campaigns should: Protect representative democracy from being distorted by big spending in election campaigns; Ensure transparency and the public’s right to know who is using money to influence elections; Enable candidates to compete equitably for public office; and Combat corruption and undue influence in government,” said Beppie Shapiro, League of Women Voters of Honolulu President. “Therefore, the League supports public financing of elections. Hawaii’s existing Partial Public Funding program has proved inadequate to meet the goals articulated above. We ask the 2023-2024 Session of the State Legislature to pass, and Governor Green to sign legislation creating a viable system for Full Public Funding of Election Campaigns.”
“As crisis after crisis mounts up, local working families know why meaningful change for our people is stalled: corruption, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter who’s in power — Democrat or Republican — if behind the scenes the same group of big money donors are pulling the strings,” added Evan Weber, co-founder of Our Hawaiʻi. “This legislation will finally provide grassroots, working class candidates to compete with the wealthy and well connected, and will finally put kamaʻāina and kānaka maoli, not big money donors, first in our politics.
"Powerful corporate interests for years have stymied even the most moderate, common sense public health and environmental protections. Their influence at all levels of government compounds these problems locally,” said Hawaiʻi Alliance for Progressive Action President Anne Frederick. “Publicly funded elections help to lessen this influence at the local level while also providing a more level playing field for political newcomers."
“When a commercial on TV costs $5,000 or 6,000 for 30-60 seconds, how are everyday working people going to compete with that? As the Executive Director for the Hawaiʻi Workers Center and a former candidate, that’s why I support this bill,” said Sergio Alcubilla, Executive Director of the Hawaiʻi Workers Center and former candidate from Hawaiʻi Congressional District II. “It doesn’t have to be that hard for good people to run for office. Money is one of the biggest barriers. I had to quit my full-time job to go all in for my Congressional campaign. Now I’m working two or three jobs just to pay back my campaign debt. This bill is how we’re going to bring everyday working people into the democratic process.”
Legislators who have signed on to support the legislation so far include:
- Senator Karl Rhoads (Democrat, SD-13)
- Senator Brenton Awa (Republican, SD-23)
- Senator Carol Fukunaga (Democrat, SD-11)
- Representative Natalia Hussey-Burdick (Democrat, HD-50
- Representative Jeanné Kapela (Democrat, HD-5)
- Representative Lisa Marten (Democrat, HD-51)
- Representative Amy Perruso (Democrat, HD-46)
- Representative Nicole Lowen (Democrat, HD-7)
- Representative Terez Amato (Democrat, HD-11)
Some of the grassroots organizations supporting the legislation so far include:
- Hawaiʻi Alliance for Progressive Action
- Our Hawaiʻi
- Living Wage Hawaiʻi
- Hawaiʻi Workers Center
- HULI PAC
- League of Women Voters of Honolulu
- Makawalu Creatives
- Energy Transitions
- Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice
- Imua Alliance