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My Turn: Take the battle against big money to the candidates

Doris "Granny D" Haddock continues to be an inspiration for those fighting the influence of big money in politics, including members of the New Hampshire Rebellion.

Doris "Granny D" Haddock continues to be an inspiration for those fighting the influence of big money in politics, including members of the New Hampshire Rebellion.

Big money flowing into our elections is moving us ever further from Lincoln’s ideal: government of the people, for the people and by the people. This problem is not new, but what had been a tide is becoming a flood. With each campaign, our elected officials grow more dependent on big donations from special interests and less dependent on us, their constituents.

We, the people, get it. Our trust in the federal government has sunk so low that fighting corruption was second only to creating jobs in a 2012 Gallup Poll on priorities for the next president. Unfortunately, the leading candidates didn’t talk about solutions in 2012, and they aren’t talking about them now.

We need to make them, and a new nonpartisan organization called the New Hampshire Rebellion has given me – and thousands of others – genuine hope that we can. The plan is simple: insist that every candidate in the 2016 New Hampshire presidential primary spell out his or her proposed solution.

An important point: It’s the system that is corrupt, not – with rare exceptions – the people we elect. Thirty years as a reporter and editor in New Hampshire taught me that overwhelmingly, candidates and elected officials across the political spectrum are ethical, decent people. We need to stop making them swim in a sewer of special-interest money.

Good idea, you might be thinking, but other things are more important. Harvard law professor and New Hampshire Rebellion founder Lawrence Lessig agrees. But he argues persuasively that no issue is more urgent. Why? Because real progress on other critical issues – for conservatives, moderates and liberals who aren’t mega-donors – is unlikely until we make Congress listen to and depend on voters much more than corporate lobbyists.

Special-interest lobbies have grown exponentially in number and power in recent decades, dazzling even insiders like Washington lobbyist Gerald Cassidy, the central figure in the 2009 book So Damn Much Money.

“Today’s members of the House and Senate lead lives that their predecessors of a generation or two ago would not recognize, because so much of their time is devoted to the search for money,” Cassidy told author Robert Kaiser. “. . . No one will stop fundraising because it could end their career. They raise money out of fear.”

A one-vote Supreme Court majority in the 2010 Citizens United case and other cases has made the situation worse. In the 2012 election, a mere 132 individual Americans (out of about 313 million) accounted for 60 percent of the contributions to Super PACs. The framers of our Constitution, who deeply feared concentrated power, would be appalled.

This broken system can be fixed. An important partial solution that could be in place soon is to give matching public funds to candidates who, after demonstrating they already have significant support, agree to limit the size of private contributions to their campaigns.

We had such a system for presidential campaigns, funded by citizens checking a box on their tax returns, and it worked for decades. Three states have public funding for state elections – Arizona, Maine and Connecticut – and voters and candidates alike are pleased with the results. When New York almost joined the club in 2013, a national Gallup Poll found more people in favor of public funding than opposed (50 percent to 44 percent).

We’ve reached a tipping point for reform. The Great Recession that began in 2007 exposed government and private institutions as deeply flawed and unable to protect ordinary people. The Supreme Court, contrary to common sense and the beliefs of most Americans, has declared that corporations are people and that enormous spending by a billionaire on politics is speech legally equivalent to actual speech by an ordinary citizen.

Lessig and other leaders of this fight acknowledge it is a tough one. But they have reminded me that when millions of Americans across the political spectrum get riled up and demand change, Congress will listen and will act, and in due course, so will the Supreme Court.

There is no better place to get the ball rolling than New Hampshire. Groups that began small have proved that New Hampshire voters can get presidential candidates to address issues and adopt or change positions. It happens to some degree in every primary.

Interested? I suggest you start by watching Lessig’s talk, “We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim” and visiting Then, sign the petition, talk to family and friends, write letters, or speak out on social media. Host someone from our speakers bureau, or become part of it. Help with house parties we plan for candidates or make a donation.

Last but far from least, join us for our next big event! In memory of New Hampshire’s own Granny D, a pioneer in this cause, Lessig and supporters walked 185 miles through the state in January to help spread the word. The walk was a big success, so we’re doing it again on the Seacoast on July 5. Total turnout is far more important than how much of the 16 miles you walk. If you can’t make it, express your support that weekend in other ways.

Our government will change, but only if we demand it, and keep demanding it. As anthropologist Margaret Mead famously observed: “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”

(Joe Magruder lives in Concord and spent most of his long career in journalism as news editor for the Associated Press in New Hampshire, where he covered eight presidential primaries. He is a member of the New Hampshire Rebellion’s volunteer advisory committee.)

Legacy Comments18

so the $25 million the Koch Bros gave to the black college funds means they want to go to a black college or the 100 million they gave to the NYC Hospital means they want to become doctors ? liberals.....sheeeesh

care to cite a study that quantifies your whim?

Big money donors are now leveling the playing field with unions and organized labor who used to dominate the donations. ActBlue, a progressive organization with the goal of turning us into a social centric society with a strong central government and wealth redistribution is a huge donor. I hear no progressives complaining about that. Naive citizens believe that anyone donating to any conservative cause is watching out the their own, to quote "selfish interest". That may not be so, in fact patriots may be donating to keep our country as free as possible, to support 'individual' rights (a plague to liberals and coservatives) and keep government under control. The bru-ha-ha over campaign financing is only a recent cause that extremists on the Left are complaining about. They can see their socialist cesspool Utopia in sight and damn it, no one is going to stop them. Free speech is free speech. If I was a billionaire, I would start a pac and it would not be for my gain, it would be to keep the country on the right course, not on the lawless course it is on now with fat bureaucrats on power trips in the government trying to control and regulate our every move.

You've been corrected on this before--but that doesn't stop you repeating the same inaccurate and misleading information over and over. Your figures do NOT include the “dark money” spending by the Kochs that goes unreported. When that is factored in, the Koch groups outspend the top ten unions by AT LEAST two to one. Stories emanating from the WSJ's Kimberly Strassel and others do not provide a full picture of ALL the spending from oligarchs. Unions, by contrast, must report ALL their spending. And it hardly needs to be pointed out: unions represent millions of people. How many people do oligarchs like the Kochs represent?

Unions represent millions of people who really don't want to be in the unions and pay dues that go to some fat cat union boss but they do it. Again, now that progressives don't have the upper hand 100% of the time, they don't like Citizens United and others donating. But NOT all donations are out of self interest, many are out of love of country, you always assume the worst and ignore that. Moreover, millions of people are employed by companies who donate and their future may depend on companies being able to stay in business with less regulation. You've been corrected on this before.

Well at least we know now where you got your post Bruce. NY Times and the Huff Post. They both admitted Labor Unions 1.7 billion spending and Kochs 490 million. They also used the lame resoning that the Koch's spend more than the top ten unions. What about the rest of the unions that are not in the top ten? Dark Money applies to Geroge Soros also. You know that guy you never mention when it comes to spending. Bloomberg is no slouch either. The idea that only the Reps reap the benefits of funding is BS. I say outlaw all political money. Put a cap on how much each candidate can accept from private donors and corps. They all have the same amount of money, even playing field.Ya never hear a Dem wanting that or a Rep. Which speaks volumes of how our Pols are bought and owe who funds them.

Thank you Joe M. and especially for your statement of: "to give matching public* funds to candidates who, after demonstrating they already have significant** support, agree to limit the size of private contributions to their campaigns." but why limit it to future $funds*? It ought to also apply to past funds* from us already, in the form of taxes paid, with a part turned over to the N.H. Public* Radio station. They are of the system that needs to be corrected because of that significant** word you used, as in the "Animal Farm" saying of that all pigs are equal, just that some pigs are more equal than others. Case in point being that when Dick Bosa of Berlin, who was the Mayor there and V.P. of our V.O.C.A.L.S., Inc. group of "Victims of a Corrupt American Legal System" was either running for N.H. governor or President of the United States that CNN labeled: "The Renegade Republican" several years ago before his death, of it Public Radio requiring that for him to be of significance** to appear on their programs of the candidates that he had to have, in addition to his campaign H.Q.'s at "The Barley House" in Concord, a branch office in every one of the ten (10) counties in our state, since without that "his name was Mudd" as they say, of "not given the time of day", of no minute, minutes nor ANY time over the airwaves to combat whatever the others had to say. So when you write of a corrupt system, that system is made up of corrupt individuals too, of not just those who get elected by squashing the competition into silence, but the providers of such as paid for by you and me plus others who sit back and gobble up what only one or two sides in a primary by R&D have to say, of awaiting for some Independent candidate to come to the rescue during the General Election, but by that time of it too late as the masses have already been brainwashed!

Fortunately for those of us that value the freedom of speech rights that are protected by the Constitution we dont have to worry about this perceived problem. There is no correlation between the amount of money spent in an election and the governance we receive from those elected.

You're kidding, right? Who wlll any successful candidate listen to more, the person (or group) who spent a million to get him/her elected, or the person or group who only could spare a few dollars? "An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought." - Simon Cameron

If this is so, doesn't it make the Kochs and the other 132 that give unlimited money really kind of stupid?

Tillie, your point is well taken. I would never call the Koch brothers stupid. But to be fair, money buys influence no matter who supplies it. That's just human nature. He who pays the piper calls the tune. To think otherwise is to be naive. To claim otherwise is to be disingenuous.

I thought I was replying to BR's ridiculous post." There is no correlation to the money spent.....blah,blah,blah. If that is true then why do they spend a billions on elections, And since as you say Koch's are not stupid, then BPR is wrong again.

Say it ain't so Tillie! Mwahahahaha

Tillie: (1) I assumed your post was a response to Bestie and was basically agreeing with you. (2) So what else is new?

go ahead and cite the legislation and who bought 60 senators and 218 House members

cite the legislation and cite the person that bought 60 senators and 218 Reps ....and I will stand corrected . Liberals are clueless when it comes to how Washington works.

You should always stand corrected. Your claim is laughable. Lobbying dollars buys access. That access is overwhelmingly dominated by business groups who lobby for less regulation (as happened with Wall St.) compared to environmental, campaign finance reform advocates, etc.

go ahead cite 1 single case that shows your whim where legislation was bought - remember it takes 218 in house - 50 in senate a 1 president that have to be bought - . as you do daily - Ya got nothing but leftist political rhetoric. you are the problem in America today..... all hat - no cattle or that dog dont hunt

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