BY: Citizens Count
New Hampshire does not currently offer any sort of public financing for elections, but there are some in the state calling for that to change.
Specifically, members of NH Rebellion point to the neighboring state of Maine, where a “clean elections” law has been in place since 1996.
Maine’s ‘clean elections’ law
Candidates for state representative, state senator, or governor can apply to receive state funds to pay for their political campaigns. Here’s how it works:
- Candidates raise a limited amount of money through private donations, called ‘seed money’. This is capped at $100 per donor.
- Candidates get a minimum number of individuals to make $5 contributions to the state’s clean election fund in the candidate's name.
- After meeting these two requirements, the candidate receives public financing but can no longer take private donations and have to cap their spending.
The amount of money a candidate can receive varies based on several factors, such as whether their primary or general election is contested.
At the end of a campaign, any unspent funds have to be returned, along with the proceeds from the sale of campaign equipment or property.
Laws in other states
The Granite State doesn’t have public financing for elections. In fact, only Arizona has a law similar to Maine, while some other states have programs that match privately-raised money with state funds for candidates who agree to spending limits.
A clean elections law in NH?
Supporters of a clean elections law in New Hampshire point to record-breaking spending on recent elections, such as the 2016 Senate race between Maggie Hassan and Kelly Ayotte, where candidates spent a total of $126 million.
“We know from the Senate race that there were only 151 major donors to both sides, or .06 percent of the population of the state is participating in this pay-to-play system.”
– Olivia Zink of NH Rebellion
They argue that public financing of elections would keep eventual office-holders from being beholden to big donors, making them more accountable to the people. It also empowers ordinary citizens to run for office competitively. All of this makes democracy more representative.
Some remain skeptical
Opponents of clean elections laws note that thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, states still can’t regulate the role of political action committees (PACs), which can raise unlimited funds and use them to campaign indirectly for a candidate.
Others argue that candidates could end up spending taxpayer money irresponsibly, using it to purchase candy or t-shirts. They say there are higher priorities for state tax dollars and that candidates should remain responsible for raising their own funds.