Money Trail the blog: The end of the road?

Last modified: 2/9/2015 4:43:49 PM
Day 11: Wednesday, Jan. 21, 11 a.m.

A full 150 miles from their starting point in Dixville Notch, the first group of N.H. Rebellion walkers entered Concord Wednesday to find ice-encrusted sidewalks as bad or worse than the ones they’d been slip-sliding on for the past two days.

They struggled to gain traction.

But on their quest to build agreement that big money is corrupting politics and spur a discussion on how to change that, they felt their footing was only getting stronger with each step. Huge challenges lie ahead, but with momentum and the support of one another, they felt they were ready to take them on.

This group has members who will go home to California and Maine and join Wolf PAC’s growing efforts to amend the Constitution.

The group has members who will join Represent.Us and its efforts to make anti-corruption changes at local and state levels in an effort to prove the concept on a smaller scale, as in the marijuana and gay rights reform movements.

Its members here in New Hampshire will do everything in their power to corner presidential primary candidates in quaint diners and pressure them on camera: “What specific reforms will you advance to end the corrupting influence of money in politics?” That tape ought to be able to teach even Floyd Mayweather a thing or two about slipping punches.

And their leader, Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor, will continue to promote ideas that make average Americans the “relevant funders of elections,” as he currently refers to the tiny fraction of a percent who now dominate campaign contributions. Those proposals — such as tax rebate vouchers that give every taxpayer $50 or $100 to throw behind the candidate they prefer, or matching funds to amplify the ordinary voter’s voice — are designed to drown out the richest donors by empowering millions of new ones. Don’t waste all your time railing against Citizens United and trying to amend the constitution or trying to figure out who’s behind the “dark money” that amounts to about 3 percent of all political spending when you can undermine the richest donors through easier means, he says. He sees that these proposals will be framed as a tax increase, as more government solving a government problem, and he cedes that people will need to give them more than a Twitter-length understanding.

These are significant hurdles, but there’s a palpable optimism from the rebels when they discuss the issue. It’s hard not to believe Lessig when he wants to inspire.

At the Common Man in Concord Tuesday, the Dixville Notch walkers grouped up ahead of the festivities Wednesday in the state’s capital. They went around the room and each took a moment to talk about their memories from the trip and share their thoughts about the future. Lessig was the last to speak, and he started by pointing out the diversity of the group, from a man jailed by his government when he realized he couldn’t support the war in Vietnam, to a Hong Kong economist, the unemployed, a doctor and a nurse, an astrophysicist and a few software developers.

“Nobody has ever put together a group like this for this kind of purpose, and nobody put it together. You did. We just pulled it together,” Lessig said.

“There is incredible power that will come from this. As hard as it is day by day, the thing that makes me giggle, makes me laugh, is recognizing we’re going to win this. And when we win this we will be as excited as those who look back at the civil rights movement today are excited about what they accomplished 50 years ago,” he said.

So, maybe look at it like this. A hurdle is even harder to clear when you’re slip-sliding on ice. But maybe — just maybe — this group is gaining some traction.

Day 9: Monday, January 19, 12:44 p.m.

As freezing rain turned neglected back roads into sheets of ice yesterday, the N.H. Rebellion was forced to go on hold.

With cars and walkers alike slipping off the road, the group pulled over and rebellion founder Lawrence Lessig’s talk about the corrupting influence of money in politics scheduled for the Lakes Region Community College in Laconia was canceled.

Sidelined while waiting for the local highway department to salt and sand the road, the walkers piled into their support vehicle, a stubby RV. Then they took a break from their efforts to reform the political system and brought back the Harlem Shake, a 2013 Internet meme.

Here’s the video:

Three of the group’s most dedicated walkers, who hadn’t missed a step since Dixville Notch, woke up early today to make up the 6 miles that they skipped the day before. Pheobe Wong, Kevin Jones and Jake Redway caught up to the rest of the pack around noon and were met by applause and cheering from the group.

Day 8: Sunday, January 18, 10:10 a.m.

In the southern half of the N.H. Rebellion walk, participants have been divvied up each night into host homes.

Ellen Farnum, of Tamworth, took three walkers in Friday, fed them and gave them a chance to shower and do laundry. She said she believes in their cause, but she and her husband didn’t have the time to dedicate to the walk.

“If our schedules and lives were different, we’d be joining,” he said.

Farnum said he enjoyed a chance to discuss with a Canadian walker in Gabriel Grant to learn how Grant said American policies have a direct effect on how Canada legislates.

“We live in our own rarified world up here,” Farnum said of her rural town. “It’s really wonderful to trade ideas with people from other areas.”

Farnum said she enjoyed making conversation with the walkers as they came through and attending the presentation held in town about bird-dogging, or pressing candidates for answers to questions on the campaign trail.

“We have such an important role in national elections because we’re first and we get these candidates close up,” she said.

Willy Farnum, who was a candidate for the state Senate in District 3, said he was having fun pressing the mock candidate during the bird-dogging event, when he pushed hard to get real answers out

“I’ve been the candidate and I’ve had nasty questions thrown at me,” he said.

“You are unflinching about asking questions of anyone,” his wife said.

“Well, I get the facts,” he said.

Day 6: Friday, January 16, 12:21 p.m.

Dave Brown flew from his home in San Jose, Calif., this week to get to the side of the road in North Conway. He said it’s “the most important place on the planet right now.”

He joined the N.H. Rebellion yesterday and will be staying until the group completes its Dixville Notch-to-Concord on Jan. 21.

“Think about the effect it’s going to have,” he said. “A bunch of people walking in the snow are going to change what’s going on in Washington.”

The son of a World War II fighter pilot, he said he’s concerned about foreign policy decisions that he said are fueled by corrupt politicians.

“We have these perpetual wars that just keep going on and we keep sending these innocent children,” he said.

Brown’s father was the youngest fighter pilot in the Pacific during World War II, he said, piloting at 19 years old a F6F Hellcat. He said his father was one of six people in his 18-man squadron to survive the war.

“By the time I was 5 years old, it was an unspoken word in our family that going to war was a horrible thing to experience,” he said.

Brown said he could have been drafted for the Vietnam War, but wasn’t. If he had been, he said he would have left the country or found any other way not to have to go.

“Even now, my father, who is 90 years old, he doesn’t think he would go now. The government is just too screwed up and corrupt. Who are you fighting for? The guys are bought off,” he said.

Day 5: Thursday, January 15, 3:51 p.m.

In North Conway, the N.H. Rebellion walkers slowed down to make sure their message was heard.

In previous days the walkers spread out and ditched signs in favor of hand warmers. In warmer temperatures in the city, they consciously slowed down, grouped up and heavily armed themselves with signs and hand-outs.

Besides just the temperature, the welcome in North Conway was warm. A handful of one-day walkers joined the group as it reached the city limits, and many cars driving by excitedly honked their horns to show their support. As the walkers move closer Doris “Granny D” Haddock’s hometown, Laconia, the residents seem to recognize the group more quickly.

While the walkers stopped for lunch outside Story Land, the manager of the place came outside, thinking that for some reason his business was being picketed.

“Oh, you must be the Granny D walkers,” he said.

Thursday, 7:35 a.m.

Andrew Hemington refers to his role in the N.H. Rebellion as “the Republican.”

The 2014 candidate for Republican governor said he’s not necessarily on board with campaign finance reform, but does agree there’s a systemic problem with the way state and federal governments operate.

“I made the deliniation between the problem and the solution,” he said. “I’m in alignment around the problem and the diagnosis. It seems to be a jump to say (campaign finance reform) is a solution.”

But he joined the walk into Pinkham Notch yesterday to bring the Republican perspective to the table. The 32-year-old, who would have been the youngest governor in state history had he been elected, lost in the primary to an opponent who outspent him 15 to 1, he said. He garnered 38 percent of the vote, compared to opponent Walt Havenstein’s 52 percent, he said.

Some Republicans feel like there’s a wall to their participation in the rebellion because Lawrence Lessig, the group’s founder, is known for promoting efforts to add public dollars into elections to democratize the funding, Hemingway said.

“There’s a natural reticence because Larry’s a liberal. He’s a Harvard professor,” Hemingway said. “Look around the room. Everyone here’s a registered D.”

He then interrupted the room of a half-dozen walkers lounging in a common are at Joe Dodge Lodge if anyone among them was a registered Republican. Silence.

“My passion is to see that wall broken down,” he said. “We need to unite around this issue.

“If we are Republicans refuse to acknowledge this is the problem, then we refuse the opportunity to be part of the solution,” he said.

As far as solutions go, he isn’t quick to give a proposal. He pointed to states working on open primaries, different election models, term limits and gerrymandering.

“I don’t think it’s a silver bullet,” he said. “I think all of these are things that have to be on the table.”

He’s also trying to get Republicans to engage. He said people of his generation especially are more likely to question the status quo.

“I’m actively trying to make more Republicans and conservatives more aware of the problem and building alignment around identifying this is the problem,” he said.

Hemingway said the first priority of the N.H. Rebellion is to rally New Hampshire to recognize the problem “and turn to our supposed leaders and say ‘what’s the solution to this problem,’ and force them to do something they don’t want to do, which is talk about it.

Lessig said the idea of corruption in our government wasn’t among Gallup’s top 10 list of important issues in 2000. In 2004, it’s No. 8. In 2008, it’s No. 4. In 2012, it’s No. 2. But if you looked at President Barack Obama and candidate Mitt Romney’s web sites during their most recent campaigns, the issue isn’t even mentioned.

“They don’t address it because they’re embarrassed by it. Especially Obama. Kind of hypocritical. This was a central issue while he was trying to takedown Hillary Clinton. Once she was out of the way, he kind of forgot it,” Lessig said.

Lessig said he received an email from the Obama campaign, along with millions of other Americans, asking him to identify the issue the administration should be focused on in the next to years.

“You’ve got to pick from a topic list of about 12 different topics,” he said. “This isn’t even on the topic list. The thing he said was central in 2008 is not even an option in 2014.”

Day 4: Wednesday, January 14, 9:13 a.m.

As the N.H. Rebellion walkers emerged from their guest home for the night on Day 4, any hope that yesterday had been the coldest of the trip quickly shattered.

Weather reports varied, but showed current temperatures as low as -28 degrees. By the time the walkers got outside, a car thermometer indicated it was -16 degrees.

The day before started out below zero, but bundled walkers with their faces covered reported that, as they got moving and warmed up, the temperature didn’t drastically affect their comfort. What it has affected is the presence of bystanders on city streets.

When the rebellion rolled into the compact Main Street of Berlin, walkers armed with brouchures spread out to meet people on the street and in their businesses. But, for the most part, people weren’t on the street, and even some seemingly active businesses were empty.

The Dixville-to-Concord rebellion organizer, Xanni Brown, said the first few days of the walk, in the sparse North Country, are lonely compared to the increasingly populated towns at the end of the walk.

From Gorham to Pinkham Notch, the Day 4 route, is 10.5 miles, the shortest day yet. Brown said the Notch had “rave reviews” during last year’s rebellion.

“It has a fireplace,” she said.

Day 3: Tuesday, January 13, 11:47 a.m.

On April 21, 2000, Doris “Granny D” Haddock and 31 others were arrested for reading the Declaration of Independence in the Capitol Building. Among that group was Ginny Schneider of Henniker, who joined the N.H. Rebellion today.

She said it wasn’t very long after her banner-carrying group arrived before the police showed up to take them away.

“One man said to me ‘I don’t think this is fair this is the only time we could ever come visit the U.S. Capital rotunda and now you guys are here and we can’t even see anything’

“I said, well, don’t worry we’ll probably be arrested in a few minutes. And it was just a few minutes,” she said.

She said she and the other protesters were put in a van and driven to a room that she said had “the prison-like toilet,” but otherwise seemed like a conference room with plenty of chairs.

“So we had a meeting,” she said. The activists sat around while detained for 3 hours and told stories about why they were there and what they were hoping to achieve.

She said she had a court date a few months later, when she and 10 other New England activists piled into an RV a drove to Washington, D.C., to appear in court before a judge. They explained their case, and the judge dismissed their charges and gave a special exception on the administrative fee applied to all cases.

“I felt really positive about that, to feel reinforcement by the judiciary there,” she said.

Haddock is quoted as having said during the hearing: “I was reading the Declaration of Independence to make the point that we must declare our independence from the corrupting bonds of big money in our election campaigns. ... In my 90 years, this is the first time I have been arrested. I risk my good name — for a do indeed care what my neighbors think about me. But, your honor, some of us do not have much power, except to put our bodies in the way of an injustice — to picket, to walk, or to just stand in the way. It will not change the world overnight, but it is all we can do.”

Tuesday, January 13, 7:22 a.m.

If the N.H. Rebellion can make it through today, many of the hardest elements of the trek will be behind them.

The longest day, 21 miles, was yesterday, and what looks to be the coldest day is today. We awoke to an outside temperature of -7, but it should warm up to nearly zero before we start walking.

Joe Palin was one of the first brave souls to venture outside, as he was preparing to help shuttle cars around. He wore a neoprene hood that covered 80 percent of his head, with a wool hat on top.

“I’ve got a second hat that I think I’m going to go get. It’s pretty cold out there,” he said.

On the docket today are 15 miles to Gorham.

Day 2: Monday, January 12, 6:28 a.m.

It’s 6:20 a.m. in Errol, N.H., and the group is about to meet for breakfast in a few minutes, and it’s pitch black outside.

The group is getting an earlier start today compared to yesterday because we’ve got about twice as much walking to do. Yesterday it was 11 miles from Dixville Notch to Errol, today it’s 21 more into Milan.

It’s supposed to be slightly warmer today with a high of 32, but with snow all day accumulating to about an inch.

That’s balmy compared to tomorrow’s forecast, which hits -7 overnight and a high of 7 degrees during the day.

Day 1: Sunday, Jan. 11, 9:25 a.m.

While Danny Miller is walking with the rebellion in northern New Hampshire, his colleagues are back home in Cambridge, Mass., working out the details of a to-be proposed change to the way candidates in that city fund their campaigns.

An astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Miller founded the Boston chapter of Represent.Us, a group dedicated passing anti-corruption laws in cities and states across America.

He says the movements to reform gay rights and marijuana law signal the best way to achieve campaign finance reform: start at city and state level until there are pockets of the country that can prove the concept and bring relevance to a wider conversation.

As a normal citizen, it’s near impossible to start reform at the federal level, but many people already have relationships with their local city councilors, he said.

The proposal is still in its infancy, but the idea is to lower the individual contribution limit to campaigns from the present $1,000 a year to $250 every two years and to give a $5 tax rebate to every voter that they can contribute to any candidate they want.

“It doesn’t put a strain on the city and it will spread the influence around so they swamp the individual donors,” he said.

Miller said if cities around the country adopt similar plans, it not only increases awareness but also develops momentum.


Editor’s note: A band of people are walking throughout New Hampshire in frigid January temperature on a quest to spur campaign finance reform. Whether it’s a lost cause or spark to larger change, reporter Nick Reid is documenting their journey, which concludes in Concord on Jan. 21.

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