Hawaii voters would support limiting the influence of wealthy donors and well-funded special interests on congressional elections, according to The Civil Beat Poll.

Across the nation, the Citizens United Supreme Court decision has unleashed unlimited spending on political campaigns by large corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals.

That new reality is not sitting well with Hawaii voters, Civil Beat found.

Two-thirds of Hawaii voters say they would support a constitutional amendment to limit political donations. The question was part of an automated telephone survey of 1,269 Hawaii registered voters conducted by Civil Beat on Dec. 4 and 5. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent.

The poll found that 65 percent said they would support an amendment if it were the only way to reduce the influence of corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals on congressional elections, while just 17 percent said they would not and 18 percent said they were not sure.

Because Citizens United was a Supreme Court decision, the only way to change the status quo would be to pass a new constitutional amendment that would place limits on political donations. One of the latest attempts came on Nov. 1 when nine Democratic senators introduced a proposed amendment. Their proposal would give Congress and the states the power to regulate campaign contributions and expenditures.

(To read an overview of the various proposals, click here.)

The constitutional amendment question was part of a survey about congressional elections and who influences the decisions and choices of most members of Congress. The poll found that Hawaii voters believe that wealthy donors such as corporations, labor unions and individuals have a decidedly disproportionate influence. That conflicts with the belief of the vast majority of Hawaii voters that every citizen should have the same influence.

The Hawaii results reflect what a national Washington Post-ABC News poll found in February 2010, just after the Citizens United decision. That poll showed Americans of both parties overwhelmingly opposed the court’s ruling. It found 72 percent support for restoring campaign spending limits.

Another poll by Hart Research Associates released in January 2011 found little awareness of the Citizens United decision, but 79 percent support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the opinion that corporations have the same rights as people.

The Civil Beat poll found almost equal support for a constitutional amendment among men and women, 67 and 63 percent respectively. Democrats and Independents were more likely to support the idea, 69 percent and 66 percent. But 59 percent of Republicans also said they backed the idea.

Support was strongest among older voters, 50 and over, at 66 percent. It was weakest among 18-34 year-olds, who split 50-39, with 11 percent unsure. Support also appeared linked to education and income, with 70 percent of college graduates and those with household incomes over $50,000 supporting the idea, while the total for those without a high school diploma was 43 percent and 58 percent for households with incomes below $50,000.

Hawaii Delegation Responds

Rep. Mazie Hirono is a strong advocate for a constitutional amendment. She is a co-sponsor of a bill introduced in September by Maryland Democrat Donna Edwards that would give states the authority to impose restrictions on corporate donations.

“What we’re talking about is ensuring fair elections in our country,” she said in an email response to questions from Civil Beat. “We now see how corporate economic interests are dominating our campaigns with attack ads against individual candidates and without any transparency or accountability.  Now that the Supreme Court has made this decision, I believe a constitutional amendment is the only way to right this wrong.”

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa is more cautious.

“I think that, clearly, we need to do something about the current state of campaign finance and eliminate the power of these anonymous interest groups in our political process,” she wrote in an email. “I believe we will be required to define whether a corporation or entity is a ‘person’ when exercising political speech. A constitutional amendment may be necessary in light of this Supreme Court’s ruling, but it must be studied very carefully in order to avoid unattended consequences.”

Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka declined to answer questions stemming from the Civil Beat poll, even though nine of their Democratic colleagues in the Senate have stepped forward with a plan to address the Citizens United decision. Both Akaka and Inouye have received a significant percentage of their donations over the past 20 years either from individuals from out-of-state or PACs.  

  • Adrienne LaFrance contributed to this story.


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