Public campaign funding totalling more than $195,000 has been doled out to eight Hawaii County Council candidates during the second election year of a three-election-cycle pilot program.
Three candidates seeking the District 6 seat, which following the redistricting process spans from about Kealakekua to the Volcano area, received the bulk of the comprehensive public funding, $124,519, for the 2012 election.
Incumbent candidate Brenda Ford and Maile David each received $41,573 while Bradley Westervelt obtained $41,373, according to current State of Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission Hawaii County Comprehensive Public Funding data.
The amount of money available for campaigns is based on candidate spending for each district in previous elections. District 1 candidates can qualify for $1,226 in the primary campaign, compared to $41,573 for District 6 candidates.
James Weatherford and Greggor Ilagan, candidates seeking the District 4 seat, which comprises lower Puna, have each received $16,230, while J Yoshimoto, looking to secure District 2, has received $14,559, according to the commission.
Ilagan, a 25-year-old who recently got out of the military, said the pilot program is giving younger people, and those without large networks, a chance to get into politics.
“It is what has given me the opportunity to run,” Ilagan explained. “For someone like myself, it is a great program.”
Margaret Wille, seeking the District 9 Waimea seat, has received $11,427 while District 8 candidate Karen Eoff got $12,282, according to the data.
With the public election funding, Wille said candidates are more able to focus on issues rather than funding.
“It makes it so people can be independent and just focus and the issues,” she said, “instead of trying to cater to a need of one party or contributor.”
In all, 12 candidates filed declarations of intent to seek the public funding with eight being certified for the funding, according to the commission.
Two declarations were withdrawn; one candidate seeking declaration did not file nomination papers; and one candidate was not certified.
Candidates in districts 1, 3, 5 and 7 will receive no funding, according to the commission.
The lone candidate in District 7, Dru Kanuha, filed for public funding, but subsequently withdrew his declaration of intent.
The Legislature created the pilot program in 2008. Act 244 takes a maximum of $300,000 from the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund, which is funded by taxpayers through a voluntary check-off on state income tax forms, and distributes it on a first-come, first-served basis to County Council candidates.
Candidates must be certified and collect $5 checks and verified signatures from 200 registered voters within their districts, and they must agree not to take campaign contributions from other sources.
The qualifying contributions must be collected between Jan. 3 and June 5.
During the 2010 election, the first year of the program, 16 candidates filed declarations of their intent to take part in the Comprehensive Public Funding program, and eight of them were certified, according to a Campaign Spending Commission report.
Incumbents accounted for five of the eight candidates receiving funding.
Candidates in 2010 received from $9,826 to $37,795, according to which district they were in.
In all, $140,187 was distributed to candidates.
There are a few problems, as with any pilot program, however, said both Ilagan and Wille.
Wille said improvements are needed in training and education as well as in how the program determines what each candidate receives.
She also noted the $5 and signature requirement could be tweaked.
If public election funding were to become a permanent program, Ilagan said, it would be a better idea to have the same amount awarded across all districts.
He also noted that allowing people to contribute cash to meet the requirement of signatures each matched with a $5 check or money order would allow for more people to get involved in the process.
“When you focus on a check or money order, it seems to target the middle class,” Ilagan said noting some people, especially those below the middle class, do not have checking accounts. “People who may not have a checking account still vote.”