Capital Beat: From surfing to a super PAC? New GOP group set to launch in N.H.
Two New Hampshire residents who sell a workout machine that simulates surfboarding on land are launching a Republican “super PAC” in the state.
Sarah Ponn, chairwoman of the new Pass the Torch PAC, said she knows most super PACs – which can raise and spend money in unlimited amounts – are created by political insiders with deep pockets.
“I’m wondering if we can mobilize regular people with small donations who are passionate about these issues.
. . . In theory, you can raise an unlimited amount of money, you can spend it however you want, as long as you don’t coordinate with candidates. So we should be able to really do something with this,” she said. “And that’s what we’re trying to prove here.”
Mike Hartwick, a former Dartmouth College hockey player, is the PAC’s treasurer as well as the founder and chief executive officer of SurfSET Fitness in Manchester.
Ponn is the company’s director of marketing and training.
SurfSET Fitness markets a fitness routine and workout machine that allows people to “surf” on land: the RipSurfer X markets for $550 apiece, and classes are offered across the country.
Since starting the company in 2011, Ponn said, they’ve become familiar with regulatory red tape, business taxes and the unemployment-benefits system. They had been active in local Republican politics and events, she said, but now want to get more engaged in the political process, and especially try to mobilize young Republicans aged 25 to 35.
“We’re not only anti-regulation. With Pass the Torch, we want to create a cultural awareness,” Ponn said. “Instead of saying, ‘I’m going to go on unemployment, I’m going on government assistance’ . . . we’re trying to send a message of, ‘Take your own path.’ Entrepreneurship is a huge part of it, rather than relying on government help.”
Pass the Torch filed paperwork with the secretary of state’s office July 19, stating its goal as “to engage young people in state & federal politics.”
It also filed paperwork July 24 with the Federal Election Commission.
It’s got a Twitter account, a Facebook page and a website, all bare-bones as of last week. The website, passthetorchpac.com, features a quote from Ronald Reagan, and if you sign up for the email newsletter, you’re greeted with this message: “Thank you for joining our movement to rebrand the Republican Party for young Americans.”
The website also contains a clock, counting down to 8:10 a.m. on Sept. 21, when Ponn said their first web video campaign will launch.
“We’re hoping to use that to raise some money,” she said, and get established ahead of the 2014 midterm elections and the 2016 presidential race. Eventually, she said, they’ll support and oppose specific candidates.
PAC takes flak
A different Republican super PAC was in hot water last week for promoting an online game allowing people to “slap” Hillary Clinton in the face.
The Hillary Project, which has a Nashua mailing address, resurrected the 2000-era game amid speculation Clinton may run for president in 2016.
New Hampshire Democrats condemned the website as an offensive attack on Clinton, and female politicians in general.
“While we have made great strides in our state, Super PACs like this join the embarrassing list of New Hampshire Republicans working to turn back the progress we’ve made,” wrote former party chairwoman Kathy Sullivan in an email to supporters.
The Hillary Project responded on its website that there’s also a game on the internet allowing users to “slap” 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
“We didn’t see the liberal media bemoaning this ‘Slap Palin’ game when it came out! They only care when it’s the candidate they support for president,” the group said.
Democrats also made noise last week after the Windham GOP invited former Providence mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci to speak at an upcoming meeting. But in recounting Cianci’s crimes, the party overstated a couple things.
Cianci, a colorful Republican-turned-independent, was mayor of Rhode Island’s capital city for 21 years. He left office in 1984 after pleaded no contest to assault, was re-elected in 1990 and left office for good in 2002 after a jury convicted him of racketeering conspiracy.
After a stay in federal prison, he’s now hosting a talk-radio show on WPRO and promoting his book, Pasta and Politics.
In a statement, Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein called Cianci a “twice convicted federal criminal” and the event’s “criminal guest of honor.”
But Kirstein’s news release Thursday made a couple of factual errors. It said Cianci was facing a rape charge in the 1980s; while a woman who accused him of rape in 1966 agreed to be a character witness against Cianci at his assault trial, he never faced prosecution for sexual assault. And while the release said Cianci pleaded guilty to assault, he actually pleaded no contest, according to Mike Stanton’s The Prince of Providence.
“I’m going to let the statement stand as it is,” Kirstein said Friday.
Hitting the books
About 32 study committees and commissions were created, reconstituted or modified by the Legislature this year to deal with issues ranging from Medicaid expansion to the construction of a memorial commemorating the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Isles of Shoals.
The Medicaid commission is, of course, the one getting all the attention. It got to work last month, and its final report (due Oct. 15) will likely be followed by a special session of the Legislature.
The rest began to gear up last week, and more than a few could lead to interesting bills come January.
Keep an eye on the Medicaid Enhancement Tax Study Commission. The 1991-era MET, a state tax on hospitals, has grown increasingly creaky since the heady days of Mediscam, and especially since 2011.
The Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority is another to watch – it’ll be proposing a regulatory structure for casino gambling, which Gov. Maggie Hassan and other casino supporters hope will erode opposition to expanded gambling in the House.
Also worth watching is a committee set up to study potential changes to RSA 5-B, the state law that regulates public risk pools like those run by the embattled Local Government Center, and a committee examining possible reforms to the newly reconstituted Children in Need of Services program.
Most of the study committees will issue their reports by Nov. 1, in time for the second year of the Legislature’s session.
The week ahead
The Medicaid expansion study commission meets 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building in Concord, room 210-211, to hear from Granite State-based policy experts, including the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies’ Steve Norton and the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute’s Deb Fournier.
The Executive Council meets 10 a.m. Wednesday at Plymouth State University, its only scheduled meeting this month.
On Thursday, the reconstituted Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority will hold its first meeting, in room 210-211 of the Legislative Office Building at 9 a.m.
Former Florida congressman Allen West will be in Nashua on Friday evening, headlining a state GOP fundraiser and the Nashua Republican City Committee’s annual “Steak Out!” dinner.
And the Republican National Committee will be in New England this week. The RNC is holding its summer meeting in Boston, Wednesday through Friday.
Quotes of the Week
“All the rumors are true.”
“I was joking.”
That was Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, quoted last Monday by the Associated Press and The Telegraph, respectively, about a possible run for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
Will the Wolfeboro Republican run against Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen next year?
Your guess is as good as mine.
Shaheen gets safer
Speaking of Shaheen, University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato’s “Crystal Ball” website last week moved the New Hampshire Senate race from “Leans Democratic” to “Likely Democratic.”
The main reason, Sabato and colleague Kyle Kondik wrote, is the lack of a “credible candidate” challenging Shaheen. (They didn’t mention former state senator Jim Rubens or conservative activist Karen Testerman, both exploring a run.)
“Even with the Granite State’s increasingly Democratic lean, Shaheen could have had a real race on her hands – and she still might,” they wrote.
“But the fact that no one of note has volunteered for the job reinforces the incumbent’s already substantial advantages and solid polling numbers.”
News of record
∎ Be sure to wish a happy birthday Tuesday to Ray Burton, the dean of the Executive Council.
∎ The Loon Preservation Committee last week honored two lawmakers, Democratic Rep. Ben Lefebvre of Grantham and Republican Rep. David Kidder of New London, for helping pass a bill this year expanding a state ban on lead jigs and sinkers.
∎ The Marijuana Policy Project named Rep. John Cebrowski, a Bedford Republican, one of its eight “Worst State Legislators of 2013” for opposing this year’s popular medical marijuana bill. “I do not want to be a part of the social and cultural disintegration of my state,” Cebrowski said during the House’s March 20 debate.
∎ Former governor John Lynch has joined the board of Manchester-based Dyn Inc.
∎ Third-party mediation will begin Aug. 19 between the state and the State Employees’ Association after an impasse was declared last month in contract negotiations.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)