The dynamics surrounding the proposed clean elections bill, which was rejected behind closed doors in the last Congress, appear to be shifting.
Let's celebrate Nadine Nakamura's accomplishments.
One of the most popular government reform bills passed the final session of Congress with virtually no opposition. Everyone seemed ready to finally challenge the oppressive power of Hawaii's incumbent, spending $30 million on fully public financing of candidates' campaigns.
Sadly, the amendments led to different versions of Senate Bill 1543 being passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate. As a result, the organization was placed in the dark and secret world of conference committees and repeatedly downsized without public explanation until it was completely wiped out.
The proposal has been revived this Congress and is once again gaining fervor among good government circles as Senate Bill 2381 receives its first hearing on Tuesday.
This time, however, prominent Democratic Party members publicly voiced their opposition. Mr. Nakamura, the House majority leader, has even publicly stated partisan reasons for his position, arguing that it would help Republicans more than Democrats.
There was speculation that this belief led to the proposal being skewered behind closed doors in the last parliament. But no one said it publicly.
This concept is controversial. Furthermore, even if it were true, it shouldn't matter.
As stated in the introduction to the bill, “The current campaign finance system used in Hawaii (and most other states) restricts the access of those contributions to candidates and elected officials. The conventional wisdom is that it gives an unfair advantage to a handful of wealthy donors who use it to buy.
It is long past time to settle it on the islands.
Still, Nakamura dealt a blow to transparency by openly opposing the bill on the first day of the session, rather than secretly opposing it at the end of the session.
“Why do you want to do that?”
Nakamura explained his opposition at Civil Beat's preview of the legislative branch at the National Diet Building. He cited the 2022 gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial races as examples where leading Democratic candidates raised significantly more money than Republican candidates.
If all of these candidates were eligible for and agreed to receive the full amount of public funding as proposed, they could have spent the same amount on their campaigns.
“Why do you want to do that?'' Mr. Nakamura asked. “There are some concerns about that, and I think taxpayers will have similar concerns when they look at this data.”
she added later. “I think we end up giving an unreasonable amount of money, taxpayer money, to Republicans who don’t have the support from the community to raise money for themselves.”
The proposal aims to level the playing field for all candidates, not just Republicans. And to qualify for public funding, candidates must first prove their viability by raising at least $5 in contributions from individual voters. The amount of donations varies depending on the office, with a minimum cap of 6,250 yen for gubernatorial candidates.
“I think it would give an unfair amount of money, taxpayer money, to Republicans who don’t have the support from the community to raise money on their own.”
Representative Nadine Nakamura
Candidates may also choose not to participate in the program. In 2022, gubernatorial race winner Josh Green raised $4.25 million. If public funds were provided under the bill, the maximum amount he could spend would be $2.5 million.
That leaves him and other wealthy Democratic candidates facing a difficult choice between business as usual and accepting public funding, but without the benefit of private donors. will be guaranteed.
Candidates need not be embarrassed about running against someone who can spend the same amount of money. Voters would be better served if they met on equal economic terms and fought over the issues.
“I owe my position to voters, not individual donors.”
Sen. Carl Rhodes, who introduced finance bills in both chambers, doesn't think Republicans will be the main beneficiaries.
“It will take a grassroots effort to take full advantage of the public financing program spelled out in my bill, which is something Hawaii Democrats have always excelled at,” Rose said. “To get into the state Senate race, he needs to collect 200 $5 donations from residents in his district. We know that it can take hundreds of hours.”
“A Republican candidate who can do that would be a formidable opponent under any system,” he said. “The advantage of this system would be that whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, you're beholden to your constituents for your position, not individual donors.”
Mr. Rose is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will conduct Tuesday's hearing, so there is little uncertainty about the outcome. From there he moves on to the Ways and Means Committee, where he unanimously approved the bill last year.
“Fully taking advantage of the public financing program spelled out in my bill will require a grassroots effort, something Hawaii Democrats have always excelled at.”
senator carl rose
The real obstacles to this bill are the same as last year. If each chamber passes a different version, the bill could be killed again behind closed doors during a conference committee.
Nakamura opposed the bill quite early this time around, and the sooner her concerns are addressed during the session, the more likely it is that the bill will actually pass. Another new development is that House Speaker Scott Psaki has introduced a companion bill, House Bill 2321.
Saeki, who faced a stiff challenge from reform candidate Kim Coco Iwamoto in the past two primaries, did not respond to requests for comment on why he participated in the fiscal stimulus.
Good government groups were blindsided by this and issued breathless statements that the Speaker's move was a huge boost for what they called the Clean Elections Bill.
Mr. Rose was more modest, saying, “It's always advantageous to have a speaker introduce a companion bill.”