A bill that would mandate taxpayers heavily subsidize the political campaigns of candidates who apply and qualify for millions of dollars in public funding is making its way quickly through the Hawaii State Senate.

SB 1689, introduced by Judiciary Chair Colleen Hanabusa, Sens. Gary Hooser, D-Kauai, Suzanne Chun Oakland, D-Nuuanu, Kalani English, D-Maui, David Ige, D-Pearl City, and Carol Fukunaga, D-Makiki, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Feb. 15, 2005, and next must clear the Senate Ways and Means committee and full Senate.

The legislation says gubernatorial candidates who qualify would receive between $4 million and $12 million for the primary election, an amount that would then double in the general election.

Lieutenant governor candidates who qualify would get between $600,000 and $1.8 million for the primary election, an amount that doubles in the general election.

Legislators did not leave themselves out of the bill and opted to potentially fund their campaigns with taxpayer dollars. House candidates who qualify will get between $32,000 to $96,000 in the primary — an amount that doubles in the general. Senate candidates can acquire between $58,000 and $174,000 in the primary and the same again in the general.

Critics of the legislation say Hawaii Democrats are pushing for this bill specifically because it provides up to $24 million in public funds for a gubernatorial candidate.

Democrats will challenge Republican Gov. Linda Lingle in the 2006 election in hopes of unseating her. Lingle, who raised $5.5 million for the 2002 election, already has more than $1.5 million on hand, and Democrats would have to find a way to compete with that.

Competing has been made more difficult for Hawaii’s Democrats in recent years because the state’s law enforcement and campaign spending commission has agressively gone after company officials who launder money to Democrat leaders in hopes of obtaining a government contract, concession rights, zoning changes or permits.

One prominent opponent, Bob Watada, executive director of the state Campaign Spending Commission and a major imputus behind the recent break up in Hawaii’s pay to play system, is strongly opposed to the bill.

Calling the legislation “outrageous,” Watada says, “The state cannot afford this.”

State Budget Director Georgina Kawamura agreed with Watada and says the governor

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