My Turn: Brown will learn: Residents want big money out of politics
Welcome to New Hampshire, Scott Brown.
As you begin your “listening tour” of the Granite State, you will hear from many of our citizens about jobs, education, health care, taxes, civil liberties, the environment and more. These issues matter deeply to our people and we’ll tell you where we stand.
But we don’t just care about issues in New Hampshire – we care about process too.
As you travel the Granite State, you will hear from residents about another problem that lies at the root of all our other concerns: the corruption of American politics by special interest money.
It’s hardly an armchair issue.
This January, inspired by New Hampshire’s own Doris Haddock, who walked cross country for campaign finance reform at the age of 90, dozens of citizens of different political persuasions put their bodies on the line by walking the length of the state through snow and sleet to stop big money in politics. With more than 6,000 miles collectively under their belt, and thousands still to come, the New Hampshire Rebellion has officially begun.
Opinion polling confirms what New Hampshire’s walkers learned along their way: 96 percent of Americans believe the influence of money in politics needs to be reduced. Although we have differing opinions on health care, taxes, and the like, Granite Staters universally agree that special interest spending in campaigns is an affront to New Hampshire’s longstanding tradition of representative, accountable government.
If the opinions of ordinary voters aren’t enough, consider the late Republican senator from New Hampshire, Warren Rudman, who devoted his latter years to stopping big money as co-chairman of Americans for Campaign Reform in Concord.
In his final printed piece before his death in 2012, Rudman warned that big money was effectively undermining the integrity of representative government in America. “Members of Congress now report spending a third of their time or more raising money for their next campaign, most of it coming from out-of-state interests instead of their own constituents,” Rudman wrote. “Wealthy contributors, in turn, expect – and too often receive – a return on their investment in the form of earmarks and legislative favors.”
You have an opportunity to change this status quo, Sen. Brown. As we were reminded by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen this week, your 2012 campaign for Senate in Massachusetts featured a “People’s Pledge” between you and Sen. Elizabeth Warren to stem the flood of negative ads by outside super-PACs. By committing to donate 50 percent of the cost of “independent” ads aired on your behalf to the charity of your opponent’s choice, you and Warren effectively ended outside attacks and brought a measure of accountability back into the campaign.
Of course, a pledge between two candidates will not fix an entire system of private campaign funding that many New Hampshire voters agree is rotten at its core. Regardless of the amount of outside spending that does or does not enter this campaign, candidates on either side are quickly raising millions of dollars – much of it from out of state – to get their message out. Too often, as Rudman observed, the money has strings attached.
Reducing the influence of special interests once and for all will require a brand new system of citizen-funded elections based on small donations from actual constituents capped at $200 and matched with public funds. To her credit, Shaheen has long co-sponsored the bipartisan Fair Elections Now Act in Congress, which would do just that. Former Republican state senator Jim Rubens has also been an avid supporter of such reforms in New Hampshire.
Nevertheless, the People’s Pledge is a necessary start. Close to $2 million in outside attack ads have already been aired in this campaign, and millions more are sure to follow unless the leading candidates say no.
As the New Hampshire Rebellion reminds us, big money is not the New Hampshire way. Out of respect for the citizens of your new home state, and in the interest of democracy itself, I urge you, Senator Brown, to sign the People’s Pledge with Shaheen today.
(Daniel Weeks, the former president of Americans for Campaign Reform, works on education, poverty and democracy issues in Manchester. He walked with the New Hampshire Rebellion in January. The views expressed are his alone.)