Statement of Paul Brochu, Stamp Stampede.org Lead Organizer – NH regarding today’s passage of the House Budget:
As expected, the Budget passed by the House today includes cuts in programs for the most-needy, service delays, cost-shifting and a patchwork of other maneuvers to reduce the bottom line rather than investing in New Hampshire’s future.
These are the types of decisions that cause voters to question the loyalty of our elected officials. “Who, exactly, are our politicians serving?” At the Stamp Stampede, we work with the growing number of people who have realized that government is being driven by Big Money political donors, and who are trying to fix that problem.
People are angry. They’re taking to the streets in protest marches. They’re testifying in legislative hearings. They’re pushing resolutions through their Town Meetings. Through the Stamp Stampede, tens of thousands of people are rubber-stamping anticorruption messages on US currency, which then circulates through the local economy and helps bring people together around the issue.
Even though corporate influence over politics is a global problem, most Americans think about it in terms of Big Money control of presidential and congressional elections. That’s what gets the headlines: a candidate asking donors to limit their donations to a million dollars; a couple of businessmen pledging to spend almost a billion dollars before the 2016 presidential elections.
But the same dynamics are at work on the state level, too – and this House budget is a microcosm of the struggle for the loyalty of our government officials.
This budget does not include tens of millions of dollars in revenue that could have come from a tobacco tax increase. Why not? New Hampshire would still have the lowest cigarette tax rate among neighboring states. We would still lead the nation in cigarette smuggling, with almost one-quarter of cigarette purchases headed out-of-state. Revenue from a tobacco tax increase could be used to avoid cuts to community health centers. It could fund continuation of the expanded Medicaid program that provides health insurance to 34,000 Granite Staters. It could patch a lot of the holes in this Budget. But it’s not even being considered.
The National Institute on Money in State Politics shows that former House Speaker Bill O’Brien received a $5,000 political contribution from tobacco giant Altria Client Services last October.
And now, the House refuses to even consider raising the tobacco tax.
Political donations can be an extremely cost-effective way for corporations to do business. A Sunlight Foundation study of the 200 most politically active corporations found that for every dollar invested in political donations and lobbying, the corporations received $760 back in tax breaks, contracts and other types of government support.
Which should give all of us pause, as this state Budget heads over to the Senate.
According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, “non-individual” political donors including business associations, corporations and PACs donated more than $700,000 to New Hampshire State Senate candidates in the 2014 elections.
Those tax cuts, if finalized, would undoubtedly trigger even more cuts to state services.
Do we really need those business tax cuts? New Hampshire already has the seventh-best business tax climate in the nation.
Budgets are, above all else, choices about priorities. Spend tens of millions of dollars on tax cuts for corporations? Or invest it in higher education for the next generation of workers? Turn down tobacco tax revenues? Or take the money and use it to improve the health of lower-income residents?
In a more-perfect world, our elected officials would make these sort of decisions based on the best interests of their constituents. But we live in a world where political donations speak louder than votes.
It doesn’t matter what party people belong to – Republicans and Democrats are outraged about this in almost-equal numbers. Ask about federal campaign donations: 80% of New Hampshire Republicans and 77% of our Democrats say that Congress is more interested in special interests than its constituents. Ask about the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United: more than two-thirds of New Hampshire voters think the US Constitution should be amended to limit money in politics.
People are feeling disenfranchised. At StampStampede.org, we hear voters’ anger at having their government stolen by Big Money donors. We work with small business owners who echo their customers’ disillusionment. People are sick and tired of elected officials choosing to take care of political donors, rather than the people who elected them.
That anger is growing. Every time that the New Hampshire Rebellion organizes a protest walk, they have hundreds more people participating than the year before. More and more Town Meetings are voting to endorse a constitutional amendment to limit money in politics; so far, 67 Granite State municipalities have voted to defend democracy.
In the past few months, several hundred New Hampshire residents have joined the Stamp Stampede. We’re seeing more and more currency with messages like “Not to Be Used for Buying Elections” and “Stamp Money Out of Politics.” Each stamped dollar bill is seen by an estimated 875 people as it circulates through the local economy – literally making money into the message, and getting the message out to millions of people.
We’re recruiting 6,500 New Hampshire Stampers help us make this into an issue in the presidential primary. We already have 60 small business partners who are hosting “Stamping Stations” where customers can stamp their money and learn more about how high-dollar donations have hijacked our elections.
It’s a grassroots movement to reclaim our government from the special interests, because we’re tired of being forgotten in the race to please special-interest political donors.
The decisions being made in this State Budget process – business tax cuts? or services for people? – show the problem in a nutshell.
Who does our government belong to? Who do our elected officials take care of?
And what, exactly, is it going to take to get our government back?
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.