CONCORD - During the Shaheen - Brown Senate race, outside spending amounted to an astounding $100.00 per vote cast, and with another U.S. Senate seat in contention this year, even more out-of-state money will flood into New Hampshire. This is just one example of how the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision has changed the landscape of American politics, and why NH democracy and campaign finance groups are urging legislators to take a stand to end the influence that comes with the millions of dollars of donations.
This Wednesday, New Hampshire House members are faced with a taking a small step toward controlling that spending as they consider SB136. The bill acknowledges that something needs to be done about the unlimited spending the Supreme Court's Citizen United decision unleashed and creates a committee to come up with options to fight it at the state level. One option may be becoming the seventeenth state to call for a Constitution amendment to overturn Citizens United.
The bill passed the NH Senate in 2015 in a unanimous vote after a bipartisan compromise, but in a partisan vote, the Legislative Administration committee voted to kill the bill, recommending interim study this past fall. As the bill enters the full House, proponents of the bill are optimistic that the bill's recommendation may be overridden and the bill approved.
“We were incredibly disappointed in the House Legislative Administration Committee’s recommendation this past October to essentially bury the bill quietly through interim study,” said Lindsay Jakows, New Hampshire Campaign Organizer with People For the American Way. “Our elected officials now have a responsibility to represent the majority of Granite Staters who support overturning cases like Citizens United by voting no on interim study and yes on ought to pass,” she said.
The committee created in SB136 would be responsible for "Recognizing the need for a United States Constitutional Amendment to address the Citizens United ruling and related cases, that protects New Hampshire’s ability to make its own laws regarding campaign finance while protecting the First Amendment," it states. It would examine the impact of the Citizens United ruling and related cases on New Hampshire elections, such as the recent U.S. Senate race where $64 million was spent, most of which came from outside Super PACs. The committee would also examine different approaches and language being proposed by the United States Congress for a constitutional amendment, and possible short term solutions.
"A recent Bloomberg poll has Republican support to overturn Citizens United at 80%, and Democratic support at 83%," said Brian Beihl, deputy director of Open Democracy, one of the groups supporting the bill. "Plus, 69 New Hampshire towns have now passed a warrant article resolution at town meeting, and another 35 towns are working on initiatives for this spring's town meetings. Voters are getting angry and taking matters into their own hands because they don't see action on either the state or federal level," Beihl said.
The movement to overturn Citizens United now has 16 other states which have already recommended repeal, and over 5 million signatures have been collected on nationwide petitions. Including New Hampshire's 69 towns, 674 local municipalities nationally that have also called for an amendment. With its position in the presidential campaign, passage of SB136 will be important on the national stage as well.
"SB136 was passed by the Senate as a bipartisan bill," said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, co-director of Public Citizen, another group advocating for campaign finance reforms addressing Citizens United. "If legislators are listening to their constituents, they will vote down this 'interim study' recommendation, and do the right thing by voting 'ought to pass,' Minkoff-Zern said. "New Hampshire voters should call their representatives and encourage them to do the right thing and approve SB136," he said.The vote takes place in the State House on Wednesday, along with other 2015 bills retained from last year. Proponents of SB136 will be gathering at the second-floor ramp at 8:30 to greet legislators. More information is available at 603-620-8300.
Text of SB 136 at the NH General Court website: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation/2015/SB0136.html
Open Democracy is a Concord, NH-based nonpartisan organization that works for transparent and accountable governance in the Granite State. Learn more at www.OpenDemocracy.me.