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Money Trail: Presidential primary in focus at rebellion rally



Last modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2015
When Crazy Larry took the microphone in front of the State House yesterday, he did something that momentarily proved his newly adopted moniker. He told a hundreds-strong crowd of activists for campaign finance reform that their stance toward Citizens United was ungrateful.

It was the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on advocacy for candidates. Members of the N.H. Rebellion had walked hundreds of miles to Concord from Dixville Notch, Portsmouth, Nashua and Keene, and along the way, they carried signs decrying the notions that money is speech and corporations are people.

And here their leader, Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor, was telling them they’re ungrateful for the 2010 ruling whose name alone spurred raucous boos?

“No, really, I think we’re being a little ungrateful,” Lessig said from under the three-cornered hat he’d inherited from a rebel called Crazy Steve. “Citizens United has been the best gift to our movement since Richard Nixon.”

Lessig noted that movements to take on the system of corruption in Washington have historically stalled. In New Hampshire, he said, the people backed Sen. John McCain when he said in Bedford 16 years ago that he’d take on the system, and they backed their native Doris “Granny D” Haddock when she marched across the country for the campaign finance reform movement at the age of 90. But local focus on the issue didn’t translate to the rest of the country.

“America has not focused on this issue forever, until the Supreme Court gave us the gift of Citizens United. After Citizens United, millions of people have rallied to the cause that we need to get back this democracy again,” he said.

Though N.H. Rebellion has mainly seen Democratic support, two former Republican candidates for U.S. senator and governor, Jim Rubens and Andrew Hemingway, joined the cross-partisan cause yesterday.

Hemingway, who marched with the Dixville Notch-to-Concord route on two days, urged attendees to keep working for reform.

“Don’t take your hats off and get comfortable when you get home,” he said, reminding the crowd that the eyes of the world would be on the state during the first-in-the-nation primary season. “We have an opportunity to raise this issue, to root out corruption, to end crony capitalism.”

Rubens said he was there “to disabuse Republicans of any notion that this corrupt campaign finance system is advantageous to our party in any way.”

“Average members of the public have essentially zero influence on Washington policy,” he said. “This is the system we’ve got, so whatever your cause, whatever your issue or your ideology, we’ve got to confront this corrupt, immobilized political system.”

He asked the crowd to demand an end to “this bought and paid-for Washington we’re suffering under.”

“When the candidates come here, do not let them do any event without asking them what are they going to do to stop the system of corruption,” he said.

Ellen McGrail, a 15-year-old sophomore in high school who walked with some of her classmates from Portsmouth, rallied the youth to get involved with the movement, saying there’s no age requirement to change the world.

“The world doesn’t care if you’re 14 or 90,” she said. “There’s no criteria that need to be met in order to fight for what you believe in. And the thing is if you won’t fight for changes you want to see, they won’t happen.”

Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream said he hopes to raise awareness of the cause with his Stamp Stampede program – in which people stamp dollar bills with messages such as, “Not to be used for bribing politicians.” He said he expects to have 70,000 members by next year, with 6,500 of them in New Hampshire, and his goal was to have 10 percent of all of the $1 bills in New Hampshire to be stamped by the end of the year.

“We may not have the money to buy TV ads, but we can literally make money talk,” he said.

Lessig said the momentum generated by walkers putting their bodies on the line to trudge across the state in sub-zero temperatures must be channeled into hounding presidential candidates with the question: “What will you do to end the system of corruption?”

“Crazy Larry promises – I guarantee – that if New Hampshire asks that question and a candidate for the presidency answers it in a way that you reward it, there’s a chance that America will follow you,” he said.



(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325 or nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickBReid.)