Public funding will mark a milestone Dec. 3 with swearing in of new Council


HILO — When the new Hawaii County Council is sworn in at noon Dec. 3, it will mark a milestone for the comprehensive public funding campaign pilot program.

A majority of the incoming council members have benefited from public campaign financing. They are Karen Eoff, Brenda Ford, Greggor Ilagan, Margaret Wille and J Yoshimoto.

More significantly, in every County Council race where at least one publicly financed candidate entered, that candidate won.

All three publicly funded candidates who failed in their quest to seek office lost to other publicly funded candidates: Bradley Westevelt and Maile David, who lost to Ford; and James Weatherford, who was edged out of a runoff with Ilagan and the mostly self-funded Fred Blas.

The intent of the law was to level the playing field for candidates who weren’t able to raise large amounts of campaign cash. Candidates who qualify for the public funding receive money intended to free them from the strings and chores that accompany fundraising for office; by doing so they also choose to forego all private campaign donations.

By state law, the pilot program is slated to continue for one more election cycle, in 2014, provided there are enough funds to keep the program running.

Kristin Izumi-Nitao, the executive director of the state Campaign Spending Commission, has expressed doubt in September that there is enough money in the commission’s trust fund to continue the program.

A proponent of the campaign funding, Kory Payne, executive director of the nonprofit Voter Owned Hawaii, said his group will be lobbying the state Legislature next session to increase funding for the commission so that it can expand the program and make adjustments in how funding is distributed.

The program is funded through a $3 optional check-off on state income tax forms. In the last election cycle, the CSC has disbursed $215,344 to the eight qualifying candidates.

The complex formula that determines how much each candidate receives depends on the cost of winning campaigns in past years. So while District 1’s funding amounts are so low that no candidate from that district has sough public funding, the three qualifying District 6 candidates each received more than $41,000, regardless of what happened during redistricting.

Those funding disparities have forced some candidates to be more frugal than others.

Yoshimoto, according to his campaign spending reports, received $14,559 after qualifying for public funds. He spent $1,695 on newspaper ads, $2,287 on signs and banners, $619 on pens and $3,144 on mailing services. (These figures have been rounded to the nearest dollar).

Ilagan’s campaign received $21,423. Through Oct. 22, the latest data for which campaign spending reports are available, the candidate threw around his cash on some novel items, including $1,000 for umbrellas.

He also spent $2,883 on newspaper and Internet ads, $2,559 on printing supplies from OfficeMax and $3,307 on food; that figure includes $300 for Bradda Pops at the Makuu Market and $875 for an imu pig and goat. Much of the rest of the money went to T-shirt, mailer and yard sign expenses.

Ford, with a public war chest of $48,893, ended with an ad blitz. Her campaign spent $13,419 on ad buys in the print media, online news websites and radio.

Then there were the miscellaneous expenses, including $200 for a parade entry, $114 for the car rental and $23 for the gas for that parade. The campaign paid $60 to Roz Peterson twice to do the candidate’s hair for a professional photo. The campaign gave $3,965 to Scooter Promo for printing services, $3,331 to Cardinal Services for a mailer and $5,135 to Lynn Beittel, co-owner of Kona video production company Visionary Video, for “media coordination.”

Eoff, who won the 8th District council seat in August, received $12,282 for the primary campaign.

Concentrating her resources in a few key areas, she spent $2,572 on signs and banners, $4,395 on print and online news ads, $1,057 on campaign shirts and $2,234 on postcards.

Wille, who defeated Sonny Shimaoka in last week’s runoff for the 9th District council seat, received a total of $11,600.

Campaign spending reports through Oct. 22 show that she spent more than half of her budget — $6,080 — on ads, primarily in the print media, for publications serving her Kohala district.

Other expenses include $1,026 for yard signs from BigDaddy’sSigns.com, $562 for banners from Rocket Banner Co. and $371 in lapel buttons.