While public interest and concern about the role of big money in elections seems to be very high, participation in Hawaii’s $3 tax checkoff that funds the Campaign Spending Commission has been steadily eroding.
The amount the checkoff brings in has fallen by just over 60% over the past two decades.
Remember the $3 checkoff? State income tax returns include a simple box asking if the taxpayer wants $3 of their taxes to go to the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund, which provides the operating budget for the commission as well as partial public financing to qualifying candidates who agree to limit the amount they spend campaigning.
The $3 checkoff doesn’t add $3 to the amount of tax you owe. All it does it earmark $3 to the election fund. And yet fewer and fewer taxpayers are choosing to participate.
The fund brought in $499,000 in 1992, but revenue dropped to less than $200,000 last year.
It’s not a pretty picture, as this chart shows.
And here are the year by year numbers.
The decline in funding has left the Campaign Spending Commission strapped for resources, which threatens to reduce its ability to enforce the state’s campaign spending restrictions. It has also at least temporarily halted the Hawaii County program of public financing available to candidates for county council. By law, the public financing program is suspended if the balance in the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund falls below $3.5 million.
At last count, it has fallen below $3 million.
So what can be done to increase public awareness of and participation in the $3 checkoff?
Share your ideas here, and I’ll pass them on to folks at the Campaign Spending Commission.