Limiting the power of money in elections

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Fred Hemmings

BY FRED HEMMINGS – No doubt big business, labor unions and other special interests can dramatically influence elections with “big money” and in kind contributions.  A good example of in kind contributions is when big labor unions run full page advertisements in the newspaper endorsing their targeted candidates. The influence of big money contributions is self-evident.

To add to the unfair advantage incumbents can use their 2, 4 or in the case of the United States Senate 6-year terms to leverage contributions. Incumbents use their terms in office to build a “war chest” for their next campaign.


Challengers to incumbents have to compete against the incumbent’s huge surplus of funds. The carry forward balances in the incumbent’s war chest can be easily verified by campaign spending reports.

Meaningful efforts to regulate contributions by restricting the amount of “donations” have proved to be unconstitutional.  Little or nothing has been done to address the problems with the unfair advantage that incumbents have with “surplus funds”. The carry forward surplus funds give incumbents a huge advantage over challengers.

There may be a comprehensive solution. For too long impotent regulations have unsuccessfully attempted to address the money issue. The solution is to limit contributions and incumbents surplus funds by time restrictions.

Here is what I am proposing.

No one can become a candidate for elected office until they are registered with the campaign spending commission in the prescribe time period in an election year.

Organizations of all sorts, campaign committees, exploratory committees, Political Action Committees-PACs may not collect or spend any money for any campaign for public office except in the time period prescribe by law. Each state can designate that time period.

For instance Hawaii law could stipulate that no campaign fund raising or expenditures by any group will be allowed except for the designated time period between March 1 and the end of the election year.

At the close of the election year all surplus funds shall be disposed of as stipulated by law.  All accounts must be closed. Basically Hawaii law allows for surplus funds to be dispersed by refund or donating to a legitimate charity.

At the end of the election all accounts and campaign committees shall be terminated.

In addition no advocacy group or special interests can support, promote of spend money for any candidate except during the prescribe time period in the election year. Everyone shall play by the same rules.

Of course the problem is that the status-quo campaign spending laws benefit the incumbent law makers. Will they, our elected officials, thwart the abuses of big money and big labor’s influence in elections with meaningful changes in the law?

Experience has demonstrated that they will not. Once again I say it is time for another constitutional convention. The citizens of Hawaii deserve better than business as usual.


Fred Hemmings, a Lanikai resident, served in the House of Representatives and the State Senate.










  1. Yes, big money is a big problem in politics. What I think would be a real solution is a CAP on term limits. This should take place both in the state and federal governments. I think some of these politicians forget that they are "public servants" and make life long careers out of warming those seats in the capitol building. Soon enough they start forgetting to "serve the public" and start acting like the public serves them. It should be that they have 6 years then out. If they were any good at being leaders, then, they should've been able to inspire another person to carry the torch- so to speak. They could then get behind this new person and help the new person get elected. Add this CAP on term limits to what is propsed in this article about limitations on big money and I think we have a winning combination.

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