NH House Election Law Committee Supports Voluntary Public FIinancing of NH Elections

Concord, NH -- The New Hampshire House Election Law Committee today passed HB 794, a bill that creates a new, bi-partisan commission to make recommendations to the legislature on how to structure and fund a system of voluntary public financing of primary and general elections for NH governor, Executive Council and state Senate.

The bill will move to the full House for a vote during the winter 2008 session, and then on to the state Senate.
During yesterday?s session, several legislators cited the rising costs of campaigns as a reason to move to publicly funded elections. With expenditures for some 2006 state Senate races exceeding $100,000, either you have to have deep pockets or access to wealthy donors to be able to run, they said.

"Our colleagues in Maine, Arizona and Connecticut laud their own states' voluntary public funding systems," said Rep. Jane Clemons, chair of the House Election Law Committee, "and with the help of this new Fair Elections Commission, I am certain that we in the New Hampshire legislature will find a workable way to bring voluntary public funding to key NH state races. As soon as this bill passes the House, we are confident that the Senate will move quickly to get the commission up and going."

"I am frustrated with the political world where only money speaks,? said Claudia Chase, a member of the Election Law Committee, ?In NH, where legislators are paid $100 per year, it?s difficult enough to serve in office. And having it take a factor of 1,000 times that salary to consider running for State Senate means that only a tiny segment of our society gets to serve. We need public funding in order to at least level the playing field.?

"We know that voluntary public funding works," said Sam Mekrut, a member of NH Citizens for Fair Elections "Voluntary public funding allows candidates to spend more time talking with and addressing the concerns of their constituents rather than seeking contributions from wealthy campaign donors. Public funding also means that qualified candidates that don?t happen to have access to big money donors can run and serve in public office."

Under the voluntary public financing system referred to in HB 794, candidates seeking to qualify to receive funding from a state fair elections fund would first demonstrate support by gathering a requisite amount of signatures and associated small contributions from voters in their districts. Candidates opting to participate in the system would agree to receive no private funds after qualifying for public funding Qualifying candidates would receive a predetermined allocation from that fund to run their campaigns.

The Fair Elections Commission established under HB 794 is tasked with examining potential and sustainable revenue sources for the voluntary public funding system Further, it will flesh out the specific details of how a new system would work, using input from other states and advice from NH and national experts The bill calls on the Commission to report its findings and recommendations for legislative action by December 1, 2008.

"I had hoped we'd pass a full public funding bill this year, said Doris 'Granny D' Haddock, but this is a solid step forward." Haddock walked across the country at 89 years of age to draw attention to the need for campaign finance reform. Now 97, Haddock continues to travel the nation garnering support for public funding of elections. Haddock said, "I trust that, using the Commission?s recommendations, the legislature will come back next year and fulfill my life's wish of seeing a system of public funding instituted in my home state."