Open Democracy, the New Hampshire nonprofit committed to transparent and accountable government, congratulated the New Hampshire Senate for unanimously approving SB 136 on Thursday, a bill calling on Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to address the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Open Democracy leaders and activists from both political parties, together with allied groups, simultaneously renewed their calls for the New Hampshire House to approve a similar measure. If adopted by the House, New Hampshire would become the 17th state to call for a Constitutional Amendment five years after the controversial Citizens United decision was handed down.
“New Hampshire citizens are frankly disgusted with the amount of special interest money flooding our elections,” said Daniel Weeks, Executive Director of Open Democracy, citing town resolutions adopted by 67 New Hampshire towns in 2014-15 calling for a Constitutional Amendment and the roughly 12,000 citizen petitioners across the state. “It is precisely because the First Amendment is so sacred that we need to protect the rights of ordinary Americans to speak and be heard in the public square, rather than be shouted down by big spenders with an agenda of their own,” Weeks said.
“We applaud the full Senate for responding to their constituents’ demands and passing this historic call for a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to rid our democracy of unlimited special interest spending in elections,” said Gordon Allen, co-chair of the Open Democracy Board. “We are especially thankful to Senators Martha Fuller-Clark (D-21) and Russell Prescott (R-23) for leading this important push.”
Members of the Open Democracy Advisory Board John Broderick and Brad Cook, the former NH Chief Justice and Republican Chairman of the Election Law Commission, respectively, called on elected representatives in the House to follow the Senate’s lead and pass the “bipartisan resolution opposing the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates to unlimited spending in elections.”
“Although we may not agree on some issues, we both believe there is nothing more destructive of good politics and good policy than secret special interest money in elections,” Broderick and Cook wrote. “Left unchecked, it will consume our electoral process and silence the voice of the people.”
The issue of money in politics has attracted near-unanimous public sentiment from across the political spectrum, with 96 percent of New Hampshire residents polled believing that money has too much influence over politics. Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of state residents across party lines support a Constitutional Amendment to limit campaign contributions and spending, according to a University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll.
As evidence of their frustration with the status quo, approximately 500 citizens took to the streets of New Hampshire this January, walking 300 miles across the state to protest money in politics as part of the NH Rebellion. The Rebellion activists and allied groups plan to continue marching and are also challenging the presidential candidates to support systemic campaign finance reform during the state’s first-in-the-national primary.
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The Senate-approved legislation, as amended, asserts “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.” To bill also establishes a study committee to examine the impact of the Citizens United ruling and related cases in New Hampshire elections; to evaluate the different Constitutional Amendment options being proposed in Congress; and to consider short-term solutions to issues raised by Citizens United.
One such measure, disclosure of independent spending in state elections, was approved by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Hassan in 2014. However, insufficient compliance with SB 120 in the 2014 election led Open Democracy to file complaints against both liberal and conservative political committees with the New Hampshire Attorney General. As of March 2015, the Attorney General’s investigations are still ongoing.
A forthcoming Open Democracy analysis of the 2014 mid-term election in New Hampshire reveals that approximately $100 million was spent by candidates, parties, and third-party groups – the highest level of election spending in state history. More than half of the total spending came from so-called “independent” groups, with the majority of their funding coming from out-of-state and/or undisclosed sources, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate contest also ranked as the most negative race in the country with over 90 percent of all television ads characterized as attacks.
Although efforts to overturn Citizens United in Congress have stalled in recent years for lack of bipartisan support, liberal and conservative leaders alike have called for state and congressional action to mitigate what they describe as the ruling’s adverse effects on elections and representation. As early as 2010 when the decision was handed down, New Hampshire’s late Republican Senator Warren Rudman wrote in The Washington Post, “Supreme Court opinion notwithstanding, corporations are not defined as people under the Constitution, and free speech can hardly be called free when only the rich are heard.”
To mitigate the corrupting influence of money in politics, Senator Rudman went on to urge “Republicans and Democrats in Congress [to] work together to expand political speech for all citizens by replacing special-interest money in politics with small donations and public matching funds.”
Open Democracy, a 501(c)(3) non-profit based in Concord, advocates for a range of campaign finance and election reforms including citizen-funded elections, overturning Citizens United, election modernization, and full rapid disclosure of campaign contributions and spending.