Hawaii lawmakers push forward campaign finance reforms

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March 27, 2013

Hawaii

By Jennifer Springer

HONOLULU, Hawaii: The House Judiciary Committee approved two bills on March 12 reforming campaign finance reporting requirements in the state. The Campaign Spending Commission has supported the bills and says they will increase transparency.[1] The proposals, introduced by Rep. Chris Lee and six others, had the support of the Attorney General’s office, the Campaign Spending Commission,c and numerous outside groups combating the Citizens United decision.[1]

House Bill 1147 would require non-candidate committees to identify top contributors in campaign ads, and would also work to improve the disclosure of corporations that donate to political candidates and makes other changes in Hawaii’s campaign finance laws to boost transparency.[2]

Supporters say the initiative is in response to growing fear of how special interests may influence politics in the state.[3]

The Committee also approved a bill on March 12th to adjust a Big Island pilot project for publicly funded campaigns to equalize the amount of money candidates receive.[3] Sen. Russell Ruderman, a proponent of the bill, says the bill will increase the program's appeal.[3]

According to reports, just two legislative candidates participated in the program during the 2012 general election. Only one, Rep. Rida Cabanilla, was successful.[1]

The program is estimated to cost taxpayers about $2.5 million a year.[3] Rep. Marcus Oshiro said the program's cost is one of the reasons he voted against the measure, elaborating that his greatest concern is the concept of using taxpayer money to fund candidates whose views people may find objectionable, such as a member of an extremist organization or someone who doesn't recognize Native Hawaiian rights.[1]

Rather than create a public funding program, Oshiro and other opponents have argued that the Legislature should increase financial disclosure requirements for corporations and unions that advocate for candidates.[1] He says improving transparency is the best path for lawmakers in the wake of the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for corporate funding of campaigns.[1]

Between 1994 and 2012, total state Senate candidate spending more than doubled, and the median amount spent by House candidates increased by more than 60 percent.[1]

The Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to set a date to review the bills.[1]

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