Campaign Spending Reform
In 2016 the National Institute on Money on State Politics gave New Hampshire an "F" for campaign finance laws. However, many issue advocacy groups argue that more restrictive campaign finance laws in New Hampshire would hurt free speech during elections.
Options for campaign finance regulation
There are three ways states can regulate campaign finance: disclosure laws, contribution limits, and public financing.
- Disclosure laws require candidates, committees, and political parties to report campaign-related spending.
- Contribution limits cap the amount of money an individual or group can give to candidates.
- Public financing provides state funds to candidates and/or political parties, usually in return for a limit on campaign spending.
New Hampshire has some disclosure requirements and contribution limits but no public financing.
Campaign finance regulations must abide by several U.S. Supreme Court rulings, in particular the Citizens United v. FEC decision. In Citizens United the Court ruled that if a corporation or union independently creates advertising for or against a candidate, that advertising is free speech and cannot be limited by the government. In short, states cannot limit the amount independent groups spend on elections. However, states can require independent groups to disclose their spending. States also still have the power to limit individual candidate donations and spending.
Campaign finance disclosure requirements in NH
New Hampshire law requires candidates, political committees, and any organizations that advocate voting for or against an issue or candidate to report spending over $500 to the Secretary of State. In July 2014 Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) signed SB 120, a bill that broadens disclosure requirements to include nonprofits who spend more than $5,000 on advertisements that mention a candidate by name but do not explicitly recommend voting for (or against) that candidate. (For example, a TV advertisement might ask viewers to "thank" an elected official for his/her issue position, but never mention an upcoming election.)
Campaign finance contribution limits in NH
According to the New Hampshire Attorney General, individual contributions to campaigns in New Hampshire may not exceed $5,000. However, Citizens United prevents New Hampshire from limiting individual contributions to independent issue advocacy groups, even if those issue advocacy groups advertise in favor of a candidate.
Contribution limits are meant to limit the influence of individual donors over candidates. Now that individual donors can give as much as they want to independent organizations supporting (or opposing) a candidate, some argue that limits on campaign donations are no longer meaningful. Some even argue that campaign contribution limits should be abolished because they encourage less transparent spending through third party groups. Others counter that giving up on campaign contribution limits will only give individual donors more power over elections.
Public campaign financing in NH
Ideally public financing for candidates eliminates the influence of individual donors over candidates. However, given the vast amounts spent on campaign finance these days, it is difficult for candidates to compete with public financing.
New Hampshire has considered public financing bills, but none have passed. Many legislators are ambivalent about using limited state funds for public financing.