Oppose HB2533 (Karl Rhoads’ Golden Parachute)

( Links: Bill Status | Bill Text | JDL Hearing Notice | HOJ Alert | Suggested Testimony )

(Blogger’s note: This is an active post and suggested testimony is being composed as you read this note.)

Synopsis

While under the guise of “clean elections”, HB2533 now uses your taxpayer dollars to finance candidates whom you do not support.  The body of research by both academic and non-partisan sources has shown that public-funding of candidate at best has no effect on the effectiveness of a candidate, and at worst could actually dilute the pool of candidates.  Additionally, this bill would ensure unpopular incumbents for the House of Representatives will have a funding source for their re-election, despite their previous actions or betrayal of public trust.  An unpopular incumbent would have to collect 200 donations of just $5 each to have access to almost $30,000.[1]

Hearing Information

Written Testimony Submission (Late testimony accepted until hearing time)

Deadline:

Monday, March 17, 2014 @ 10:00AM

Online:

http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/submittestimony.aspx
In-person Testimony (Please submit written testimony 24 hours in advance)

Date:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 @ 10:00AM

Location:

Room 016, State Capitol

Parking:

Capitol Basement (Metered) or Ali’I Place (Diamond Head side of Alakea Street, between King and Hotel Streets, just past the Manadalay Restaurant)

Supplemental Information

While the intent of public financing is intended to “level the playing field” so that additional individuals could seek elected office, it is quite clear that the intent of the originator (Rep. Karl Rhoads) and the timing of the bill’s introduction is to ensure that unpopular incumbents still have an accessible funding source when they operate contrary to the public interest and are subsequently unable to access campaign funding.  A survey of publicly available research on public financing of election candidates by a variety of sources leaves someone to believe that even in the best case scenario, public-financing has no effect on the “cleanliness” or the “effectiveness” of an election candidate.[2]  In the worst case scenario, public-funding actually dilutes the pool of “good” information available to the public during an election.[3]

Furthermore, the House of Representatives changed the funding source from a special fund to general funds.  The special fund was funded using a checkbox on the state tax returns of individuals.  In this respect, a person had a choice to “opt-in” to funding publicly-financed election candidates.  By changing the source to general funding, all taxpayers will be forced to contribute to the public-financing of election candidates – including candidates whom they would never support.  For example, money from a pro-life taxpayer would be used to finance a pro-choice candidate.

Additionally, the proposed public-financing system would have two sinister effects on the electoral process here in Hawaii –

1)      It disproportionately exposes younger, more inexperienced candidates relative to entrenched incumbents.  The best example of this is Senator Clayton Hee who consistently has a campaign war chest in excess of $100,000 dollars.  The amount pledged in public funding would still have a negligible effect.  The same can be said about empowered legislative leaders like House Speaker Joe Souki, Majority Leader Scott Saiki and Finance Chair Sylvia Luke, who all receive massive campaign contributions in homage to their powerful positions.  These candidates are insulated from the effects of public-financing.  The average House candidate has less than $30,000 in available campaign funds, so other minority voices would face stiffer competition during elections relative to entrenched and empowered incumbents.  This decreases the democratic effectiveness of our elections.

2)      The publicly-funded amount is calculated to be approximately $30,000 for a publicly-funded candidate.  Cursory research of campaign-spending for the last election shows that spending by incumbents in about half of all contested House races spent less than $30,000.  Therefore, by providing funding to all candidates for a particular type of seat at $30,000, the amount of spending in approximately half of all races would be escalated.

It is the responsibility of every elected official to represent the public interest.  If an incumbent fails to represent the public interest, it is easy to see that campaign contributions would be difficult to access.  In the light of the actions of the 2013-14 Legislature, it is easy to see why legislation for “public financing” of election campaigns would be popular, especially since in-person testimony before the legislature opposed same-sex marriage by a margin of 8 to 1.

The electoral process was created to ensure that candidates that best represented the public interest would have the best chance to be elected to office.  Instead, the mantra of “public-financing” is being used to ensure that unpopular representatives have a “golden parachute” for when they are derelict in their duties and obligations to their constituents.


[1] At $1.40 per person in the area of jurisdiction, candidates for the House of Representatives would be eligible for approximately $30,000.

[2] Interestingly, some studies (like this one from MIT) concluded that contributions by PACs are considered one of the funding sources that contribute positively to candidate effectiveness.  As a business of sorts, the investment of speech (via endorsement) or money (also a form of speech) by a PAC is a carefully weighed proposition.  Endorsements and money are not something that are carelessly thrown about and are instead spent in ways that maximize the effectiveness of the investment.

[3] Interpreting the results of the study identified in [2], if legislators were truly concerned about “clean” and “effective” candidates, the study hints that the best tool is an educated electorate, where tools like candidate guides contained in the newspaper can offer relevant biographical information beyond name and party.  This would include their age, marital/family status, incumbency and length of incumbency and their professional background.  In demographic pools studied, an educated electorate increased the effectiveness of every campaign dollar without increasing overall spending by a candidate during an election.

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