The Sunshine Blog: Wait Til You See What Just Happened To The Plan To Publicly Fund Campaigns - Honolulu Civil Beat

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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.

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

Rich man, poor man: The state senator with the largest campaign war chest has effectively decimated the bill aimed at encouraging more competitive elections in Hawaii by establishing a comprehensive system of public financing for state and county candidates

On Thursday, Senate Ways and Means Committee chair Donovan Dela Cruz nixed the fallback plan to spend $7.5 million to seed the program for a 2028 tryout. This according to Sen. Karl Rhoads, the public financing proposal’s sponsor, who delivered the news about Senate Bill 1543.

Instead, the bill now directs the state to come up with a mere $700,000 as a downpayment for the future funding system. The money will go into the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund, which currently — and inadequately — pays for the state’s partial public financing system, which no one uses because it provides so little help.

So, to recap the story of what was arguably the most significant sunshine initiative of the 2023 session, a bill that was already approved near unanimously by the full Legislature went from a financing system to operate in the 2026 and 2028 elections with $30 million to a paltry $700K for a program five years from now that may or may not ever see any money at all.

And with not an iota of public say in the matter.

Such is the power of the WAM chair. Dela Cruz, by the way, is already sitting on nearly $1 million in his campaign account, by far the most of any incumbent state lawmaker.

Conference Committee Room 325 at the Capitol, where sunshine bills lived and died on Thursday. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Rep. David Tarnas said the House would reluctantly accept the deal, which still has to be voted on Friday.

“I know advocates are out there saying we’ve got to fund the whole thing, but we have to take an incremental first step,” he said, adding that he did not have approval from Kyle Yamashita, chair of the House Finance Committee.

Such is the power of the FIN chair.

Evan Weber of Our Hawaii is one of those advocates. Earlier Thursday he put out a press release condemning the earlier draconian changes in SB 1543 and reminded folks what the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct stated to the Legislature in December: “With the influence of money in politics comes greater temptation and opportunities for corruption, bribery, and greed.”

Watch a video of the meltdown of public financing of campaigns.

Commonsense corruption bills imperiled: Speaking of corruption, bribery and greed, strange things indeed happen during conference committee. Take the case of House Bill 724, which both the Campaign Spending Commission and the League of Women Voters testified was necessary to stop a common but corrupt form of campaign contributions.

HB 724 would have prohibited state and county contractors and grantees, their officers and immediate family members from contributing to candidates while their contracts or grants were in effect.

The measure sailed through the House and Senate with only a minor Senate amendment preventing it from going straight to the Governor’s Office. But even though both chambers appointed conferees to reconcile the differences, they had not been scheduled to meet as of Thursday.

No meeting means dead bill. Your Sunshine Bloggers left an inquiry with Tarnas’s office asking, “Why?”

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Similar measures have failed to survive previous legislative sessions. But with this year’s focus on accountability and reform, good-government advocates were hopeful it would finally become law.

“Anyone who has studied the Campaign Spending Commission’s database on contributions to politicians or candidates will have noted that multiple donations by apparently related individuals (i.e. family members) are often made almost simultaneously with contributions by a (presumed) family member who owns or directs a business,” wrote the league’s Beppie Shapiro.

“Such multiple donations subvert CSC limits on amounts which can be donated by one entity,” Shapiro wrote.

The CSC agreed: “This bill will prevent the corruption, or at least the appearance of corruption, of elected officials.”

But any amendment sends measures into the murky waters of conference committee, a political minefield from which many never return.

Welcome to Survivor, Legislative Style: Not all bills with minor amendments die mysterious deaths in conference. Senate Bill 182 made it out alive earlier this week. Alas, it’s mostly a housekeeping measure, which is why we’re just catching up to it.

Proposed by the State Ethics Commission, it would modify the penalties and filing deadlines for financial disclosures of legislators as well as certain public employees and candidates, and would streamline the enforcement process for financial disclosure penalties.

Another survivor: House Bill 1502, the media shield bill, which protects journalists from having to disclose sources. Supporters included the Big Island Press Club and Society of Professional Journalists Hawaii Chapter.

The bill resurrects a shield law that was in place for a number of years until another former powerful senator, Clayton Hee, decided it wasn’t necessary and let it sunset.

Veteran scribes Stirling Morita and Gerald Kato were on hand at the Capitol for passage of the media shield law. They look happy now that the media shield law is getting new life. (Chad Blair/Civil Beat/2023)

Rolling, rolling, rolling: Meantime, sunshine bills “rolled over” until Friday afternoon include Senate Bill 627, which would allow the use of campaign funds to pay for child care and to care for household members. That work especially impacts female candidates, who are often the primary caregivers.

But SB 627 does not have “release” from the House Finance Committee, even though the bill’s conferees have settled their differences and there is no fiscal appropriation. But FIN did hear the bill, making it a “fiscal” bill.

Another fiscal bill that actually does have financial implications was also pushed back one more day: the beleaguered House Bill 719, the public records bill proposed by the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct. The bill has gone through more torment than most this session despite — or perhaps because of — its noble purpose to make it cheaper for the public to obtain public records and government documents.

This is another bill that has Donovan Dela Cruz’s fingerprints all over it. We don’t really know what those fingers have done to it, though, because conference committee members have yet to publicly post the proposed conference draft known as a CD1, another disservice to the public and yet something that is allowed under House and Senate rules.

Read this next:

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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)

The food excise tax credit is a joke. Almost nobody who actually declares their real income can qualify. If you make more than 30k you get nothing. The fact that they couldn’t give the middle class a tax break when they have a two billion dollar surplus is unforgivable.

xoxoxoxo · 7 months ago

So Dela Cruz is basically the Mitch McConnell of Hawaii. Got it.

karangurallaz · 7 months ago

If you read this article (Mahalo Civil Beat!), and you're like me and don't like what is happening, then you have the power of the pen ... just like Civil Beat. But your pen is more powerful, because the collective ink that fills out the ballots at the next election, can remove legislators who don't do the right things or care about what their constituents want.

Greg · 7 months ago

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