Restoring Democracy: Taking Money Out Of Politics
Like it or not, the candidate with the most money almost always wins elections – not the candidate with the best ideas. Unfortunately, recent US Supreme Court rulings have ensured it will stay this way. However, there is still much we can do to change this and make elected officials accountable to the people they represent, rather than the companies that fund their campaigns.
Right now here in Hawaii, candidates tend to raise money from those who give the most – corporations, big landowners and others whose interests are often directly opposed to those of the general public. This can lead to blatant conflicts of interest when that candidate is elected to office and has to choose between what the community wants or what the corporation wants. The special interests that write the biggest campaign checks continue to have the most access and most influence in politics. If we are going to keep the interests of the people first, then this must change.
The Success of the Arizona Model
In the 1990s elected officials in Arizona were tied to their corporate campaign donors, and utility rates and public policy were regularly shaped in favor of those interests at the expense of the taxpayers. Deciding they had enough of it, Arizona residents changed their elections laws.Instead of elected officials being beholden to the interests of their largest campaign donors, they decided the state should publicly fund the campaigns of candidates running for office, so those candidates would be beholden to no one but the people they represent. Public donations and money from court-ordered civil fines paid for more than 1100 candidates running clean elections without having to take money from special interests. They could instead campaign on the merits of their ideas.
The result was a change in public policy that put the people first – utilities could no longer count on their hand-picked elected officials to look out for them and were forced to change their ways. What’s best for the people of Arizona became the sole priority for elected officials, and the people of Arizona have voted time and again overwhelmingly to keep the program running.
Here in Hawaii…
In 1978, Hawaii voters chose to create the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund and create a similar elections public funding system. The fund receives about $2.7 million every two years through accrued interest and through a voluntary $2 check off on state income tax forms. Unfortunately, since 1978 elections have become so expensive that this plan no longer provides enough money for candidates to be competitive, who instead are forced to rely on raising money from private institutions.
If we can revamp the system to provide a comprehensive public funding option for elections, then we will give voters an option to elect candidates who are absolutely free from outside influence. Overall, public funding increases voter turnout and candidate participation, and it builds trust between taxpayers and legislators. In the long run it creates an atmosphere of policy-making free from the corrosive influence of special interest campaign contributors, which is better for democracy and better for all of us. Find out more about Arizona’s Clean Elections and what can be done here in Hawaii.