My Turn: Money in politics is a problem here, too

Last modified: 5/8/2015 12:58:39 AM
Ben Cohen is known for his ice cream, but a couple of weeks ago, he sold me a T-shirt.

The message caught my eye: On the front, it says, “Stamp Money Out of Politics.” On the back, it says, “The System isn’t Broken, it’s Fixed.”

Running for the New Hampshire House in Rockingham District 32, I am getting an up-close-and-personal look at exactly how big money in politics works. It’s not just a problem at the federal level, and it’s not just campaign contributions from special interests. The special election I am running in is being shaped by outside money.

One political “action fund” has spent almost as much on mailings to promote my opponent as her campaign has.

It has a great name – who could argue with “Liberty For All”? But it’s really hard to find out much else about the organization that’s putting itself in the middle of the Rockingham 32 election. Its website shows a P.O. Box in Alexandria, Va. It uses a fax machine in Wells River, Vt., to send filings to the secretary of state’s office. And it describes itself as “a federal political action committee organized as a hybrid Super PAC. We donate directly to political campaigns and also raise unlimited contributions for the purpose of independent political expenditures.”

I believe them about the “unlimited contributions.” But, about being a federal PAC? According to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, they spent money on only three congressional races last year: a total of $37,616 on elections in Michigan, Louisiana and Arizona.

Contrast that with their filings at the secretary of state’s office. The organization spent a total of $68,613 on New Hampshire state legislative races last year. Their website crows about “celebrating victory in New Hampshire” for 13 state legislative candidates.

Whose money is it? Who’s paying for the political mailings and the targeted online ads? And what, exactly, are they buying with that money?

When I bought my T-shirt from Ben, we talked for a long time about how the political landscape changed after Citizens United.

There’s one bit of good news: This is a nonpartisan issue. Voters in the GOP are just as concerned about it as Democrats. More than 60 percent of New Hampshire Republicans support amending the U.S. Constitution to overturn Citizens United and get big money out of politics. So far, 68 New Hampshire municipalities – including some that are the reddest of the red – have called for a constitutional amendment. That’s how sick everyone is of having our government stolen by special interests.

There’s more good news. People are starting to take action. In January, hundreds of people walked across the state with the New Hampshire Rebellion, to converge at a rally protesting the fifth anniversary of Citizens United.

Almost a thousand Granite Staters have joined Cohen’s group, the Stamp Stampede, and are literally using money to “get the message out” about how big money is affecting elections like mine. All around the country, people are legally rubber-stamping their paper currency with messages like “Not to Be Used for Buying Elections” and “Money is Not Speech, Corporations are Not People.” Each stamped dollar bill is seen by about 875 people – so it’s a great way to spread the word that people care about money in politics.

And small businesses are getting on board, too. Almost 80 New Hampshire locations are now hosting Stamp Stampede “stamping stations” where customers can stamp their money and learn more about the problem. Why? Because local store owners have seen how the economy is affecting their customers. They’ve drawn the connection with government policies that are destroying the middle class. Neighborhood cafes and specialty shops can’t afford to hire lobbyists – and they can’t stay in business if their customers don’t have money to spend.

It’s that simple. Our government should work for all of us – not just the special interests who can afford to “buy” their own politicians.

Especially here in New Hampshire. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, special interest groups spent more than $900,000 on our state legislative races last year – and that’s just in old-fashioned contributions to candidates’ committees. It doesn’t include “dark money” or outside spending like the $68,613 spent by “Liberty for All.”

Can’t help but wonder what they’re hoping to buy in this special election for Rockingham District 32. Can’t help but wonder what this election would be like if they weren’t throwing money at it.

(Maureen Mann is the Democratic nominee for the Rockingham District 32 House seat and lives in Deerfield. The special election for the seat is May 19.)

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