New Hampshire Rebellion marches into town, seeking end to soft money

Last modified: 1/21/2014 12:25:21 AM
Bolstered by Doris Haddock’s vision for eliminating soft money in political campaigns, an organization called New Hampshire Rebellion walked into downtown Concord yesterday on day 10 of its two-week, 185-mile march toward Nashua.

The group, fighting what it sees as the harmful effects of big-money contributions to candidates, will remain in Concord through tomorrow morning before moving on to Manchester to continue raising awareness, targeting the state’s 2016 presidential primary.

The journey will end Friday, which would have been Haddock’s 104th birthday. The woman known as Granny D embarked on a cross-country walk in her late 80s to advocate for campaign finance reform.

“It’s the perfect way to end this two-week march,” said Jay Els of Burlington, Vt., an organizer of political campaigns. “Anyone who read her story would be blown away by someone at her age, to get up and walk across the country. There are few people in our lives who stop at nothing. They set their minds to something and they do it effectively, and they do it right.”

About 50 people stopped at the State House yesterday, arriving about 1:30 p.m. with their signs and American flags. Szelena Gray of Somerville, Mass., the group’s media director, said 16 people will walk the entire route, which began Jan. 11 at Dixville Notch, where voting begins at the stroke of midnight for the first-in-the nation primary.

Volunteers have slowly swelled the group along the way, with some traveling for several days before returning to their home lives.

Els said a student came in from Colorado, still on Christmas break from school, and someone else flew in from Alaska to pitch in.

Distances traveled have ranged from about 10 miles to more than 20 per day. Host families have offered meals, floors, couches and beds. Motels are used when free accommodations are not available. New Hampshire Rebellion stayed at the Fairfield Inn last night.

“We’ve had lots of blisters on our feet because we have people who are not used to walking these kinds of distances, that many days in a row,” Els said. “We have a lot of people dealing with sore hips and sore knees, so it’s a demonstration that people are willing to put their lives on hold. I’m impressed with how people are stepping up to get this done.”

The group is led by Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig, a mentor to Aaron Swartz, who championed free speech and internet freedoms before committing suicide one year ago at age 26.

The walk began on the one-year anniversary of Swartz’s death. Also not by coincidence, today marks the fourth anniversary of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that opened the way for unlimited independent financing of political advertising campaigns.

To mark the date, former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer, a strong supporter of campaign finance reform, is scheduled to join the movement today.

Before leaving for Manchester this afternoon, the group will spread its message at a Concord Rotary lunch at noon, then seek more support at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.

“We’re out here to give people hope and engage them and make them understand that New Hampshire has a unique opportunity,” Gray said. “You get to ask the candidates the hard questions, and in 2012, this was the only issue that made the top 10 list of issues that none of the candidates addressed specifically. We think this is the place to make that happen.”

As opposed to campaign finance reform, New Hampshire Rebellion members prefer to say “corruption,” believing it will have a stronger connection with voters. They believe candidates spend too much time seeking donations, and the money raised creates a conflict of interest.

“The way it is now forms that perception of corruption among Americans who are seeing this money flying around,” Els said. “They have a hard time believing that there is no attachment to that check these people are getting.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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