By Paul Brochu and Liz Iacobucci
“It’s almost impossible to exaggerate how angry, frustrated and even disgusted people are with the flood of money” into political campaigns.
That’s what Joe Magruder told the state Legislature last week, during hearings about Citizens United. Joe spent more than three decades covering New Hampshire for the Associated Press. He worked as an impartial observer through eight presidential primaries. He’s seen it all. And he thinks this year’s anger level is so far off the scales that “it’s almost impossible to exaggerate” just how bad it is.
Last week’s House hearing was packed to overflowing. So many people came to testify that there wasn’t enough time for everyone to speak, before the Senate hearing started across the street. (See our live-tweets from the hearings at @NHStampede)
We’ll find out whether the Legislature was listening this afternoon, when the first of the bills is expected to be reported out of committee.
Both the House and Senate bills are pretty mild, compared to the emotion outside the hearing rooms. The bills would allow the Legislature to study the issue of money in politics through a statewide series of public hearings. Then New Hampshire’s Legislature could decide whether to join 16 other states – including New Mexico, Montana and West Virginia – calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
That’s all the bills would do: create a series of opportunities so people around the state can tell the Legislature what they think about the flood of Big Money into political campaigns. Give the people a chance to have their voices heard.
It’s ironic that the Legislature needs to create a hearing process in order to hear the voices of ordinary citizens over the voices of special interest lobbyists.
But right now, the system is set up to hear lobbyists, not ordinary citizens. The first thing everyone noticed, when they came to testify on the bills last week, was that the House hearing room had only eight seats.
Two weeks ago, hundreds of people walked across the state to draw attention to the issue of Big Money in politics. The NH Rebellion organized 300 miles of marches – from the four corners of New Hampshire all the way to the State House – in honor of Granny D.
We walked with the group between Nashua and Concord. We talked with people, as we walked along, and Joe Magruder is right: everyone is angry, frustrated and disgusted.
Angry enough to take time off work, walk through snowstorms, cross icy bridges, sleep in strangers’ homes.
Frustrated enough to keep going, mile after mile, even after reporters asked whether walking across the state could possibly make any difference.
Disgusted enough that it didn’t matter what party you belong to, what generation you belong to. Republicans and Democrats, Free Staters and progressives, middle school students and great-grandparents: everyone walked together.
That’s how badly people want their government back. “It’s almost impossible to exaggerate.”
Days after our State House rally, two businessmen announced plans to “invest” almost $1 billion in the 2016 presidential campaign. That’s more than both parties spent – combined – in the 2012 campaign.
How do Granite State voters feel about the fact that presidential candidates are being selected by high-dollar donors in invitation-only “conferences” – more than a year before the “First in the Nation” primary?
How are ordinary citizens supposed to have their voices heard, over all that money?
At StampStampede.org, we’ve created a petition on steroids to give voice to that frustration. We’re working with thousands of Granite State voters to rubber stamp $3.8 million dollars with messages like “Stamp Money Out of Politics.” Every stamped dollar bill is seen an estimated 875 times; together, the message will be seen over 3 billion times. Enough to ensure that our representatives cannot ignore us.
Poll after poll reports that people believe their elected officials care more about special interests than constituents. Here in New Hampshire, according to a 2013 Granite State poll, almost four out of five people agree that special interests get more attention than citizens. That’s bipartisan agreement, in its purest form.
Last week, an overflow crowd turned out to explain to the Legislature the depths of their disgust. “It’s almost impossible to exaggerate.”
Could the Legislature hear them?
We’ll know, later today.
Paul Brochu is the Lead Organizer-NH and Liz Iacobucci is the Press Secretary-NH for StampStampede.org.