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Campaign Spending Reform

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Citizens Count Editor
Summary

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.

Comments

Alice

I heard that there is a vote to overturn the rule that says corporations are people. They are NOT. I'm a person! I'm an individual and I'm upset that big money has any "say" in my life. Please help me and many others by voting to overturn that ruling. I'm a registered voter and I ask you sincerely to help. Thank you.

Anna

Hello Alice,

You may be interested to know that a 2014 NH bill related to this issue: HJR 11. That bill was a House resolution asking Congress to form a Constitutional Convention to amend the U.S. Constitution and declare that corporations are not people.  The House voted against HJR 11, but since the state government doesn't have any actual power over the federal government, the resolution probably wouldn't have had any effect if it did pass.

There are lots of others out there like you, however, hoping to get the Constitution changed to make it clear that corporations are not people.  Here are two websites dedicated to the issue:

https://movetoamend.org/

http://corporationsarenotpeople.com/

Brian

This is an article from WMUR channel 9 in New Hampshire:

http://www.wmur.com/political-scoop/kuster-raises-400k-for-reelecti...

 

You know what I did the first 3 months of this year? I framed a house on a mountain side with below 0 wind-chills every morning. I ran 2 wood boilers at two separate properties every 5 hours every day all winter. I split and moved 20+ cords of wood, I shoveled and maintained 7 properties across 2 towns. Now I rake yards, sweep driveways, plant grass and paint. I have 700$ in savings.

 

No one is giving me 402,000$. No one will give me over 1 million dollars. Do you really think this is positive news? Do you really think that getting over 400,000$ already this year puts you in touch with the people of the state? This is exactly what is wrong with our political system. I am a man of the people. This is a government of the people. The government works for the people, not the other way around. It is time for the people of this country to hold our elected officials accountable. We the people have the power to do this.

 

The founder of LifeLock posted his social security number to the public and dared anyone to steal his identity. I would be willing do something very much like this with my income/bank account while elected. I promise to be the first politician to have their income 100% transparent and within the public eye. If elected I will accept no other money than the government position pays. I am actively attempting to get on the ballot this fall. I want to do this with integrity and honesty. I am not accepting any donations.

Peter

There are town meeting petitioned articles in over 50 NH towns this year to direct the NH Legislature to send a Resolution to Congress calling for a Constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision that gives political action committees (PACs) and Super PACs the Constitutional right to spend unlimited money on elections.

 

The amendment would state that only "natural persons" are citizens under the U.S. Constitution and money is not "free speech", it is property.  Also, all political contributions must be publicly disclosed.

 

So far over 500 municipalities and 16 states have approved resolutions supporting this amendment, and it takes 2/3 of the states to make Congress act.  New Hampshire should join this effort!

 

We the People must take action to take back our elections from the "money politics" of special interests, and our Founders put Article V in the Constitution to give us the power to make changes as necessary.  This issue is central to everything that comes before Congress so please get involved - every person counts!

Lou

Open government is not owned by anyone but the people. When a citizen in my district chooses to speak his or her mind, that person can walk through the doors of the State House without being stopped or questioned and can walk directly into my office.  My door is always open.  As New Hampshire citizens, we believe this is right because we believe that the Capitol is the people’s house and that our job as legislators is to serve the people. I try to embody this belief and work very hard to respond to my constituents, even stopping in the hallways between sessions to hear what they have to say. If we disagree, we might even have a debate.  Such respect and openness to our constituents is the envy of other states, where the citizenry may not have as direct access to their elected officials.

 

However, with every election we see the further encroachment of outside groups and interests in influencing our elections. This threat to our democracy is the direct result of the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC. Now, dark money groups with secret donors can attempt to push their pet projects on lawmakers with possibly dishonest or underhanded tactics. These outside groups do not understand our pride in service to our constituents, but their influence is felt all the same. Now, rather than hearing voices of our constituents on the merit of the argument, we lawmakers are forced to contend with the threat of overwhelming finances of special interest groups should we choose to vote with our conscience. This only serves to disenfranchise both the lawmakers and our constituents. We feel this frustration so deeply that, when I was at a forum held in Manchester, former Senator Majority Leader George Mitchell, who spoke, said that the Citizens United decision was a very bad decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court.


This threat to our democracy must be met with a forceful and immediate response. Last year, I supported a bill calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Unfortunately, this bill failed to pass the legislature, and the problem has only worsened since.  In the 2014 congressional election, outside groups spent more than 49 million dollars on three congressional races in New Hampshire- one of the highest amounts of outside spending in the nation.

 

The citizens of New Hampshire see this continual erosion of our democracy, and are appalled. According to a University of New Hampshire Survey Center Granite

State Poll, 69 percent of residents have said that they would support a constitutional amendment that limits corporate campaign contributions and spending. This support includes majorities on both sides of the political spectrum as well as independents1. Furthermore, 56 towns in New Hampshire passed town warrants in support of a constitutional amendment, including a unanimous vote in the conservative town of Derry2. On this issue, I have listened to concerned citizens from all walks of life - from high school students to seniors, and small business owners to farmers - who spoke on the issue. I’ve rarely seen an issue with such deep and bipartisan support.

 

It is imperative that, as legislators, we respond to our constituents and show them we can address this issue and restore trust in our government. Therefore, I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass SB 136 this year.

 

 References:

 

1) Azem Z., Smith, A., Granite State Poll, April 18, 2013. The University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

2) http://www.nh4democracy.org (NH Towns with Town Warrant Articles)

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