by Paul Brochu, Lead Organizer-NH for the Stamp Stampede
People don’t usually think about Big Money in politics as being an issue at the state level.
Ask about political influence, and eight out of ten New Hampshire voters will tell you that Congress cares more about special interests than about its constituents. Almost two out of three New Hampshire voters support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
But almost nobody talks about the problem at our State House.
The budget passed by the House last month was a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with our electoral system. It was endorsed by the state director of Americans for Prosperity – a national advocacy group founded and funded by the Koch brothers. The guy even held a press conference to announce the group’s approval.
The day of the vote, hundreds of New Hampshire residents filled the building, trying to get their legislators to hear them. Trying to avoid cuts to addiction treatment services. Trying to avoid downshifting of state costs to municipalities. Trying to keep federal money that could subsidize 37,000 people’s health insurance through expanded Medicaid. Trying to avoid cuts to all sorts of state services that people in New Hampshire rely on.
The guy from AFP walked right past all those people, as if he didn’t see them. Then the House passed the budget he had endorsed. All those people filling the State House, spilling out onto the sidewalks, didn’t make a bit of difference in the outcome.
According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, special interests spent about $900,000 on New Hampshire’s 2014 legislative elections – plus an unknown amount in “independent expenditures” and so-called “advocacy” spending. That’s a lot of money.
According to the Institute, one donor – tobacco giant Altria – gave $16,750 to candidates in the 2014 New Hampshire state legislative elections. The biggest recipient? Former House Speaker William O’Brien received $5,000. Surprise, surprise: the House budget turned down $20 million in proposed new tobacco tax revenues.
The Institute’s record show that Altria also gave donations to 14 of New Hampshire’s 24 Senators. Those donations ranged from $500 to $1,000. Is there any hope that new tobacco tax revenues might show up in the Senate budget?
At the local level, we see first-hand the effects of past years’ state budget cuts. Untreated mental illness. Untreated drug addiction. The homeless. People who can’t afford health care. Families who can’t make ends meet.
And now we’re faced with even more cuts. Just to please the guy from AFP? And elected officials’ campaign contributors?
People who are tired of politicians kowtowing to special interests are banding together for a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United. Since our elected leaders seem happy with the status quo, we’re trying to lead from the grassroots level.
Here in New Hampshire, almost 1,000 people have joined StampStampede.org and are legally stamping anti-corruption messages on US currency. We’re turning dollar bills into miniature billboards. Each stamped bill is seen by an estimated 875 people as it circulates through the local economy – spreading the #GetMoneyOut message quickly.
Almost 100 small businesses around the state are hosting “Stamping Stations” where customers can stamp their money and learn more about the problem.
Hundreds of people have joined the New Hampshire Rebellion on its walks to honor Granny D and draw attention to the problem.
People are working with the AFSC’s “Governing Under the Influence” project to get presidential candidates on record about what they will do to get Big Money out of politics.
Sixty-eight municipalities have passed local resolutions seeking a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
Groups are hosting screenings of John Innis’ movie “Pay to Play.” There are speaking tours about the influence of political donations on federal government spending. Rallies and informal get-togethers. Church congregations are stamping money in their collection plates with “Not to Be Used for Bribing Politicians” stamps from the Stamp Stampede.
And that’s just here in the Granite State.
All around the country, people from both parties are stepping forward and taking grassroots action to reclaim our government.
It’s a huge problem, at the federal level. A recent Sunlight Foundation study of the country’s most politically-active corporations found that for every dollar they spent influencing politics, they got back an average of $760 in government support through tax breaks, federal contracts and other types of subsidies.
Yes, every dollar spent gets them $760 back.
Here in New Hampshire, watching the state budget, it looks like the math is going to be even more impressive. If Altria’s $16,750 in 2014 political donations means that Big Tobacco avoids $20 million in taxes, that would be a 1:1,194 investment-to-return ratio.
While the mentally ill wait for treatment.
And the rest of us wait for representation that’s not beholden to special interests.
The Stamp Stampede is tens of thousands of Americans legally stamping messages on our nation’s currency to #GetMoneyOut of Politics. As more and more stamped money spreads, so will the movement to amend the Constitution and overturn Citizens United.
You can get your own stamp online at www.stampstampede.org. Or, if you’re a member of CWA, you can get a stamp from your LPAT coordinator. The average stamped bill is seen by 875 people – which makes stamping a highly-effective way to get the message out about how money in politics is corrupting our government.
It’s time to #GetMoneyOut of politics and take back our government.