The Sunshine Blog: House Finance Chair Besieged, Public Money For Campaigns, Police Secrecy - Honolulu Civil Beat

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The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair and Richard Wiens.

Short takes, outtakes, observations and other stuff you should know about public information, government accountability and ethical leadership in Hawaii.

Editor’s note: This is Sunshine Week, a nationwide effort to shine a light on the importance of public information and accessibility to government led by the News Leaders Association and The Associated Press. News organizations throughout the country make it a point this week to publish a story about their efforts to obtain public records and other public information. Watch for something from Civil Beat every day this week in keeping with our “Let The Sunshine In” project. In case you missed it, here’s our Sunshine Week kickoff — a survey of Hawaii lawmakers’ views on term limits.

Ain’t no sunshine when he’s gone: House Bill 955, which would have allowed unlicensed midwives to continue offering services permanently, failed to advance when it did not get a hearing in the House Finance Committee — even though it cleared two other committees.

A reader last week raised the question of whether the committee chair, Rep. Kyle Yamashita, might have disabled his official Instagram comments given all the attention HB 955 received.

Rep. Kyle Yamashita, left, took a lot of heat from supporters of unlicensed midwives. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

“That’s not the case,” Cathy Lee, the House communications director, said in an email Friday. “I just spoke with his office and the session staffer who was creating digital content for the account recently got locked out due to a password change, and from my understanding they’re currently trying to regain access.”

Lee added, “There hasn’t been any recent activity on his account. If residents want to reach out to Rep. Yamashita, they can do so via email.”

Here’s how to email Silent Kyle:

Whether Yamashita responds remains to be seen. He did not reply to a Civil Beat inquiry last week about the midwives bill, nor a rally at the Capitol and a sit-in outside his office, nor a request for an interview for a profile on him earlier this year, nor to a survey on term limits.

Cash for campaigns: Anyone interested in the debate over public financing of political campaigns should check out Colin Moore’s deep-dive research into the issue published recently by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization. Moore, a political scientist and associate professor at UHERO, reviewed other public financing programs throughout the country and concludes that public financing could work here but only if it affords candidates enough money to be competitive.

That’s not the case with Hawaii’s current system of partial funding of campaigns and undoubtedly the reason very few people use it, he says.

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Moore suggests three ideas: transform the current system into a “supermatch” program with a significant boost in the matching funds, create a block grant program that provides a substantial dollar amount to run an effective campaign, distribute campaign vouchers to registered voters allowing them to give the voucher to their favorite candidates who would then redeem it with the state in exchange for cash.

Two proposals are being considered by Hawaii lawmakers this session: the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission/Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct’s House Bill 95 and Sen. Karl Rhoad’s Senate Bill 1543.

HB 95, building on Hawaii’s current system of partial public financing, doesn’t do enough to make much of a difference in being able to run a meaningful campaign, Moore says.

And SB 1543 envisions a healthy campaign bank account for various elected offices but may run into trouble when it comes to how to pay for the program. Other states divert a portion of specific revenue streams to a public financing fund — for example, a portion of all criminal and civil fines in Arizona goes to its Citizens Clean Elections program.

Neither would prevent independent expenditure groups from raising and spending as much as they wanted on their favorite candidates, as we’ve seen year after year in local, state and federal elections.

“Most scholarship shows that generous public financing programs increase electoral competition, contribute to greater diversity among candidates and donors, and encourage more contact between office-seekers and voters,” Moore writes. “There is less evidence that public financing contributes to greater trust in government, reduces corruption, or leads to major changes in public policy.”

Police misconduct: Lawmakers killed two bills — one in the Senate and one in the House — that could have let police departments off the hook when it comes to identifying officers who get in trouble and are disciplined.

The Maui Police Department is the only police agency in the state not releasing the names of officers involved in disciplinary actions as required by law. (Ludwig Laab/Civil Beat/2022)

The four county police departments are required to send annual summaries to the Legislature at the start of the session laying out basic information on what misconduct has occurred and disciplinary action taken. They’re also supposed to include the names of officers on the summaries even though that is an issue still being pondered by the Hawaii Supreme Court. The court is reviewing a challenge by the police union to Act 47, which eliminated an exemption in the public records law that allowed police misconduct to be kept secret, and whether cops should be identified on the annual legislative reports before the grievance process has run its course.

Civil Beat has a big interest in this issue, as loyal readers know. In 2013 we filed suit to free up police disciplinary records and finally won after many years of legal skirmishing with Honolulu and the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers. So bills to undermine that hard-fought public interest victory will always be on our list of things to keep an eye on.

This year, the Honolulu, Hawaii County and Kauai police departments filed legislative summaries that included the names of all offices no matter the disciplinary status. Hopefully the death of this session’s bills will prompt Maui’s police department to do the right thing and file a corrected report.

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About the Author

The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair and Richard Wiens.

Latest Comments (0)

Is Rep. Kyle Yamashita's demeanor and attitude a revealing representation of the State bureaucracy? Or am I extrapolating with exaggeration to reenforce my belief that our bureaucracy could be doing a much better job of serving the needs of their constituents?

Joseppi · 6 months ago

It's actually scary to think how this town/state would be run if Civil Beat had not come along to fight for so much in the field of accountability and basic public information rights! Officials sloughing off citizens, cops running around doing dodgy shenanigans with impunity, elected "leaders" trying to sweep things under the rug. It truly is scary.

WhatMeWorry · 6 months ago

As long as we have less than 300 elected officials representing our 1.4 million residents, half not registered, and only half of those, voting, and an interlocking oligarchy of insurance, shipping/transport, banking, seldom-decertified private- and public-unions, and our handful of musical-chairs incumbents, served by a captive cohort of marketing, media, law, and lobbying folk who cannot make an individual living if they stray too far out of the Overton Window, or challenge the powers that be, campaign-finance reform won't make a difference. How about home rule? How about 2,885 elected officials in Hawaii, as an average state in our democratic republic would have? Then it would be a lot harder for the government plantation to control so many elected officials and to treat citizen candidates as interlopers, as nobodies to be disregarded. Home rule, not 'public financing,' is what is needed. Elect local magistrates, school boards, town councils, tax assessors, sheriffs, the highway superintendents, and the conservation officers. Lacking home rule, voters, reasonably, despair of change and focus on other things. 'Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.'

Haleiwa_Dad · 6 months ago

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