Saturday, April 18, 2009

Big Vote Today on Clean Elections

Another emergency message came in last night from Voter Owned Hawaii. I usually investigate something before I put it up, but given the time frame, I'm just going to post this and let people make their own decisions. The message, verbatim:

We know movies usually come out on Friday nights, but Saturday (today) is different.

Lawmakers will decide on SB 884 and it will be a show you don't want to miss! Bring popcorn and a blanket (air conditioning will be blasting) and watch as legislators decide whether or not (here's where the plot is) to add Section 25 (of HB 39) to SB 884. It's the old bait and switch plot. Will legislators switch Section 25 (of HB 39) over to SB 884?? If so, this would knowingly undermine Act 244, the Big Isle Fair Elections Act ( For those of you who want more technical details, see below ).

(If you are not on Oahu, but listening, can you help us by making phone calls to our supporters tomorrow?! Just respond to this email with your phone number and we'll call you - Mahalo!!)

WHEN: Saturday, April 18 4:00 PM

WHERE: Room 309 at the Capitol

(Can you be a volunteer? -- Help us call through to our supporters tomorrow! If you can volunteer, please respond to this email with your phone number and we will call you!! )

As you know, we worked 10 years to pass a Fair Elections Law. Last year, Hawaii became the 9th state in the U.S. to pass this important reform. It's a movement that is sweeping the country....

Technical Details

1. While HB 345 to delay Act244 is dead (it could still be brought out by Sen JGO
technically but not likely),

SB 884 is being fast tracked, and it could completely undermine Act 244
(hearing tomorrow, Saturday at 4:00 PM )

2. When opponents to this bill realized HB 345 wouldn't pass, they figured out
that they could raid the Haw Election Campaign Fund to bring it under
the $3.5 million threshold
(by Sept 1 this yr).

If the HECF is under $3.5 million then Act 244 cannot run (and, w/ the
continued efforts to raid the HECF -- even before the stock market crash
act 244 might never run, which may be the play)

3. SB 884 goes to Conference Committee at 4:00 PM tomorrow Saturday.

Senator Donna Kim, and Senator Hanabusa are the legislators who can make or break it

4. SB 884 Takes from the HECF in two ways:

a. takes the interest from HECF

b. it could potentially contain another section ( Section 25 in the companion bill
HB 39 ) ---- this section would give the finance director the
authority to take a set amount out of the HECF on July 1.

If this section allows more than $500,000, we could be sunk, not
able to meet the $3.5 million threshold. ( $1 million might also be
safe, but the numbers are shaky )

Right now, in HB 39, there's a $1 placeholder in Section 25, leaving
it open for negotiation.

As the conference committee goes through this, line by line, tomorrow
night, they'll come to Section 25 of HB 39, and have to decide whether
or not they're going to raid the HECF and exactly how much.

This is a concern. The House has already indicated support to do away
with Act 244 - Big Isle Fair Elections.

5. The Hawaii Election Campaign Fund is different from other special funds in 2 ways:

a. most importantly, it has a constitutional mandate from the 78 Con Con
(section 5 of Const I think)

b. taxpayers check off money on tax forms ( legally, the state can take certain
amounts of money from the HECF )

To Recap

SB 884 is the new vehicle to potentially raid the HECF, bringing it under the $3.5 million
threshold. On Sept 1 2009 (year before an election year), if the HECF balance
is under $3.5 million, Act 244 cannot run.


Also, if you haven't done it yet, please consider writing a letter to the newspaper editors. If you send a letter, please BCC the letter to

Here's what to do:

  1. Compose an email to be sent to,,, and letters@westhawaiitoday
  2. Begin your letter how you want, you may want to start by saying "Dear editor, I'm writing in response to Sunday's editorial from Big Island House reps regarding HB 345..." or something similar to that.
  3. Write your letter. Feel free to use the talking points below.
  4. Call the Tribune Herald editorial department at 930-7324 and ask them to print your letter.

Talking Points:

  1. The Supreme Court has already turned down an appeal to hear the constitutionality of the matching funds mechanism of some comprehensive public funding programs. This is a clear sign that they don't believe there is a case. To use speculation about a possible court case as a reason to undermine Act 244 is disingenous.
  2. It's a fact that oil costs are going to start rising again, and this is going to leave Hawaii helpless in many areas: tourism, food security, and energy security. It's precisely because of the pay-to-play elections system that Hawaii is hamstrung in all of these areas. These are the urgent issues of our day, and it's going to get worse before it gets better. It's interesting then, that it would be a modest pilot program for public funding that would create the type of urgency that would cause five House Reps to spend their time on an editorial to oppose it. Aren't there better things to do then to spend time oppoosing a program that would help solve the very problems we should be tackling? Stop HB 345 and let the Fair Elections Act have it's chance to run as a pilot program.
  3. Money is not an issue. The money does not come out of the General Fund, but instead out of the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund. This money, by law, must be used for publicly funded elections.
  4. Money is not an issue. In order for the Fair Elections program to run, there must be $3.5 million dollars in the fund. This will guarantee that the Big Island Fair Elections Act doesn't deplete the fund.
  5. There is a cap on the Fair Elections program that is set at $300,000. It cannot use any more money than that.
  6. The projections being cited in Sunday's editorial are inflated and do not take into account the difficulties of the qualifying process in order to access public funds. In Arizona, even after the program had been running for three election cycles, the average number of candidates who qualified per district was 1.17. Even though 24 candidates ran during the last Big Island county election, some of those candidates simply put their name on the sheet without running a serious campaign.
  7. Citing the economy as a reason to delay the Fair Elections Act is only a scare tactic. In fact, it's during bad times that it makes the most sense to run a program like this. The very reason we're in the bad economic situation we're in is because of privately financed elections. Big Banks essentially marched right in to the Securities and Exchange Commission and convinced regulators to change debt-to-capital ratios and risk management factors for the lending industry. These were major factors in creating the fake bubble in the housing market that lead to the recession. The only reason these banks could do that is because they finance the campaigns of the legislators who appoint the leaders within these regulatory bodies.
  8. Citing Massachusetts is another scare tactic too. Voters enacted the Massachusetts "Clean Elections" program through a ballot initiative. The Speaker of the House at that time however, Thomas Finneran, was staunchly opposed to the measure and refused to fund it. The Massachusetts Supreme Court then found the Massachusetts Legislature in violation of their Constitution.
  9. In summary, legislators can use all of the scare tactics that they want to, but in the end, this is a matter of challenging the "powers that be". Fair Elections allows qualified candidates who have trust in their communities to run a legitimate campaign to at least get their ideas onto the table for debate. In general, this makes sitting legislators uncomfortable because it allows more people to participate in a game that right now is only open to people who have connections to money.

Thanks again for your continued support!

Voter Owned Hawaii



If you haven't written a letter-to-the-editor, please consider doing that with our easy-to-use form. Just click here!

Thanks again for your help to pass the "reform that makes all reforms possible"!


Voter Owned Hawaii


Friday, April 17, 2009

Raid on Elections Fund?

Another last minute maneuver may be underway that could derail Hawai'i County's pilot publicly-funded elections program. The program, passed last year by the state legislature, is designed to ensure that county council candidates who could gather enough signatures and five dollar donations from their constituents could get matching money to counter an opponent who had lots of special interest money. The matching funds were supposed to come from the interest on the state's Campaign Elections Fund, which is running a healthy surplus right now.
Yesterday I got an e-mail alert from Kory Payne of Voter-Owned Hawaii, which had pushed for the original program. It said that House Bill 39, which originally had been about placing a $5 surcharge on various state-collected fees had been gutted and rewritten as a bill to let the state borrow the interest from various special funds--including, presumably the Elections Fund, which is supplied from voluntary donations by taxpayers who check a box on their tax returns for that specific purpose.
The Voter-Owned Elections release explained one possible ramification:
Because Act 244 contains a section that says there must be $3.5 million on September 1 before each election year, citizen advocates believed legislators might try to raid the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund to bring it below that $3.5 million threshold. House bill 39 is now waiting to be scheduled for a final “conference committee” at which both house and senate members will try come to a resolution on the matter.

I pulled up the bill's various versions at, the state legislature's Web site.
Here's the complete text of the latest version:
Section 1. The purpose of this Act is to effectuate the title of this Act. SECTION 2. The Hawaii Revised Statutes is amended to conform to the purpose of this Act. SECTION 3. This Act shall take effect upon its approval. INTRODUCED BY: _____________________________

In other words, we don't know what the heck is actually going to go into this bill at this time. But we do know that it's no longer about adding surcharges to various state fees. That language really was deleted.

The bill was amended by the Senate to its current gutted form on April 14--enabling the Senate, perhaps, to say that it had hadn't supported a tax increase, just in time for Tea Party Day--and the amended version was returned to the House, which notified the Senate today, April 17, that the House disagreed with the amendment .

Here's Voter-owned Hawaii's take on what happens next:

Payne believes the decision on how much money to take from the election fund rests in the hands of house and senate leadership. “At the end of the day, the two most powerful politicians in the Capitol decide what to do on issues of large public concern. Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, along with Senator Donna Kim, as well as House Speaker Calvin Say, will have the final say on the matter.” House bill 39 will be decided sometime between now and the final decking deadline on May 1.

For those who wish to make their voices heard on what fills in the blanks, here are Hanabusa's and Say's contact info:

Sen. Colleen Hanabusa
21st Senatorial District
Hawaii State Capitol, Room 409
415 South Beretania Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
Phone 808-586-7793; Fax 808-586-7797

Rep. Calvin Say
20th Representative District
Hawaii State Capitol, Room 431
415 South Beretania Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
phone 808-586-6100; fax 808-586-6101

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Shotguns and Tsetse flies

I don't usually comment here on national and international events. But like many other people, I've been following the news of the dramatic rescue of an American merchant captain from Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa. What I've found most striking about the whole affair--aside from the incredible luckiness of three simultaneous head shots into a covered boat bobbing on the ocean--were the story's correlations to two other news stories that it nearly drowned out (sorry about the pun) in the U.S. Media.

One of those was about Defense Secretary Robert Gates' decision to direct U.S. funding away from weapons systems designed for the Cold War, such as the super-expensive Raptor fighter, and toward systems more in line with current threats, such as as guerrilla fighters, terrorists and pirates armed with relatively primitive but highly effective weapons such as AK-47s, RPGs, improvised land mines, suicide truck bombs and small speedboats.

The pirate standoff was a classic example of the problem. The primary adversaries were four pirates with small arms in a lifeboat versus a U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer. Look at that again: a guided missile destroyer. I toured such a destroyer when it visited Hilo Harbor two or three years ago. The Arleigh Burkes are 506 feet long (my guide that day claimed his ship was nearly the size of a World War II cruiser, but that's a slight exaggeration; most U.S. cruisers in WWII were over 600 feet long. On the other hand, WWII destroyers was usually only about 350 feet long). They carry an awesome array of vertical-launch and cruise missiles, and a Phalanx Gattling gun for defense against incoming missiles--but their only standard armament useful against a pirate speedboat would be a single five-inch deck gun. U.S. Navy ships used to carry marine snipers on board--but according to one news report, the Navy seals who finally took the shots that ended the pirate standoff had to be parachuted down to the Bainbridge.

According the the Bainbridge's own Web site, the missile destroyers were "originally designed to defend against former-Soviet aircraft, cruise missiles, and attack submarines"; now, "This higher capability ship is to be used in high-threat areas to conduct antiair, antisubmarine, antisurface, and strike operations. " This ship was not designed for this job. 

So why are we hunting tsetse flies with a shotgun?

The flies apparently realize the folly of our approach. The day after sniper rifles did what guided missiles couldn't, Somali pirates seized four more ships and raked a second U.S. container ship--which, ironically, like the Maersk Alabama, was carrying emergency humanitarian supplies--with RPG and automatic weapons fire. I didn't see any stories about whether the pirates were abetted in their efforts by the fact that at least two U.S. warships (a guided missile frigate ironically named the U.S.S. Halyburton reportedly joined the Bainbridge) were tied up watching a lifeboat.

I'm no defense expert, but it seems to me that unless we plan to start nuking towns along the Somali coast, we'd be a lot more effective in the region if we were using the equivalent of coast guard cutters, or or maybe something along the line of WWII PT boats (After getting the PT 109 cut in half, John F. Kennedy commanded a PT boat that had been rearmed as a gunship. A modern equivalent might actually be able to catch a Somali pirate who didn't somehow get himself stranded on a lifeboat.) And we could build a batch of them for the cost equivalent of one guided missile destroyer.

The other article that caught my attention was about the origins of the piracy problem. The story was widely publicized in Europe--BBC's "World Have Your Say" based an entire one-hour program to it. It seems that after the Somali national government collapsed, big commercial fishing vessels began moving into Somali coastal waters and gobbling up all the fish, in violation of international treaties of the seas. This, of course, devastated the local fishing industry. The out-of-work local fishermen started launching vigilante operations against the interloping fishing fleets, and then escalated to general piracy.

It seems to me that if our Navy ships are going to attempt to catch the pirates, we should also use them to go after illegal trawlers, which a destroyer probably could catch. Then the local Somalis would have less reason to go pirating. They might even actually like us, and let us send them surplus American grain without firing at our ships.

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 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.