Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Where I've been.

My apologies for the infrequent posts lately. I've been heavily engaged in a little research project. I've been going through the campaign spending reports of local legislators, and making my own annotated versions: figuring out what the acronyms of the various political actions committees stood for, who the individuals worked for, which of them were lobbyists. The results have been pretty eye-opening.

This all stemmed from a couple of requests for stories about the move to delay the start of publicly funded elections in Hawai'i County. The pilot "voter-owned elections" program, passed last year, was to have started in 2010. This year, however, five Hawai'i Island legislators--Robert Herkes, Clift Tsuji, Cindy Evans, Jerry Chang and Mark Nakashima--introduced House Bill 345, which would delay the start of the program until 2014. The measure passed the House, but seemed dead in the Senate until a the Hawaii County Council, with its new majority under J Yoshimoto, voted 6-3 yesterday to support Bill 345, despite all-but-unanimous testimony against the delay. Those supporting the measure cited the possible cost, the possibility that the money alloted for public funding would run out before every candidate who applied was funded, and court challenges to similar measures in other states. Those against the delay argued different figures and different court cases, and wondered why the debate wasn't on how to fix any perceived problems instead of about delaying implementation.

But one thing is certain: some of those who support the delay are doing very well under the current system. They've gotten big contributions from special interests outside their own districts, which gives them a huge advantage against any challengers--an advantage they'd lose if publicly funded elections ever became a reality.

Hence my little project. It was an extremely time-consuming job, but it's going to bear considerable fruit. I'm about to send the first story based on that research off to the www.thehawaiiindependent.com: a report on who's financing those five legislators. And now that I have the data, I'm going to be tracking the money behind various other issues at the legislature, such as genetically modified crops (Clift Tsuji, who wants to prohibit state or county regulation of them, is getting a lot of money from the companies that produce them) and the tobacco tax increase (You'd be surprised about who's getting money from Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds). It's going to be fun.

If somebody out there has some experience with data crunching or spreadsheet programming and wants to help extend this effort to other state legislators, btw, give me a call or drop me a line. It's a big job, but it's something that needed to be done a long time ago.

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