So who do Hawaii’s U.S. senators and congresswomen represent?

Their local constituents? Or their big campaign donors, regardless of where they live?

The answer, according to The Civil Beat Poll, isn’t pretty.

Despite being represented in the U.S. Senate by a Medal of Honor winner and an ambassador of aloha, half of the state’s registered voters say donors have the most influence over the choices and decisions of our congressional delegation.

Civil Beat’s automated telephone poll of 1,269 registered voters on Dec. 4 and 5 found that just 35 percent said the state’s members of Congress make more choices and decisions in the interest of their constituents. Fifty-two percent said they make more choices in the interests of big campaign donors. Thirteen percent were not sure. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent.

The figures for Hawaii’s members of Congress were better than for Congress as a whole. In response to a similar question about most members of Congress, 79 percent of respondents said donors, and just 11 percent voters, with 10 percent not sure. (Read a story about what the poll found about Hawaii voters’ attitude toward Congress in general.)

However in a state dominated by Democrats, they were the only group of voters in which a plurality said voters had the most influence, 48 percent to 40 percent for donors. When it came to the all-important Independents, 64 percent said donors have more influence, and just 28 percent said voters. Their view was much closer to those who identified as Republicans. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans said donors had the most influence over the decisions of Hawaii’s members of Congress, with just 18 percent saying voters.

Rep. Mazie Hirono1 said the results showed how frustrated Hawaii voters are by what she described as the gridlock in Washington and the perception that big money rules.

“One of the most anti-democratic, corrosive changes affecting elections in our country is the recent U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which allows big corporations to spend unlimited hundreds of millions of dollars in secret to influence elections,” she wrote in an email response to questions from Civil Beat. “This happened in the 2010 elections and the 2012 elections will see even more corporate money spent in this way.   The only way to stop this secret hijacking of elections is to change the Constitution.  I am a cosponsor of a bill to do just that.”

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa2 cited the public’s “frustration with the pace of progress in Congress and what the public may perceive as a lack of availability of their representatives.

“The current session of the House, in particular, has been marred by ongoing partisan struggles over efforts to improve the lives of our working people and the middle class,” she wrote in an email. “I think the majority of people look at that and ask, ‘Who is fighting for me?’ Unfortunately, the assumption then grows that donors, or business, or Wall Street are calling the shots. I can state unequivocally that my focus is always on the people I represent. I don’t know what motivates House Republicans.”

Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka both declined to respond to questions about the poll. Since 1989, Inouye has received the majority of his individual donations from donors outside Hawaii. Akaka has received just 31 percent of his individual donations from out-of-state during the same period, but he has received a greater percentage of his donations from PACs, 49 percent vs. 34 percent for Inouye.

The poll found that men are more likely than women to say that the people who represent our state are most influenced by donors, 59 percent to 46 percent.

The young, those between the ages of 18-34, are the most likely to believe that donors have the most influence, with 63 percent saying donors and just 20 percent saying voters.

  • Adrienne LaFrance contributed to this story.

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