Senate bill seeks more fairness in election financing


HILO — The state Senate has passed a bill that would change how public funds are distributed to Hawaii County Council candidates.

Under a pilot project, qualifying candidates can choose to use only public funding when running for the council.

How much a candidate receives depends on how much money was spent by the victor in that district’s two previous elections.

That has resulted in large disparities in the distribution of public funds.

According to the state’s Campaign Spending Commission, $3,780 in public funds would be allocated to a qualifying candidate in the 2014 District 1 primary while $18,333 would be provided to a candidate in District 8.

Senate Bill 381, which the Senate passed Tuesday, seeks to equalize the expenditures.

If passed by the House, qualifying candidates would receive $13,106 across the board for the 2014 primary, no matter which district they were running in.

Sen. Russell Ruderman, the bill’s sponsor, said the current formula is too flawed.

“It’s clearly not logical the way it turned out,” said Ruderman, D-Puna.

The bill would also limit the number of candidates that can qualify to 25 per election.

The pilot program will lapse after the 2014 elections if not extended.

Still, the bill doesn’t address funding shortfalls that may prevent the program from making it that far.

The commission has to have at least $3.5 million in its trust fund to continue the program.

The trust fund, which also covers the commission’s operations and another program that offers partial funding for candidates, has $3.1 million, said Tony Baldomero, the commission’s associate director.

The fund is covered through a $3 optional check-off on state income tax forms.

Baldomero said that provides about $200,000 in revenue a year.

Eight council candidates used the public-funding option in the 2012 elections. The commission provided them with $215,344 in funding all together.

Five of the nine current council members used public funding for their campaigns.

Lawmakers are considering another bill that would provide full funding for qualifying candidates in state House and Senate races.

Currently, the state provides a partial-funding option for state and county races (the Big Island’s pilot project excluded).

The legislation, House Bill 1481, would also remove candidates for governor and lieutenant governor from being able to use the partial-public funding option.

The bill would provide an unspecified amount to help cover the cost of fully funding House and Senate candidates who choose that option.

Qualified candidates would receive $67,562 in Senate races and $32,598 in House races, Baldomero said.

The House passed the bill Tuesday. It is now being considered by the Senate.