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Rick Bourdon: Where do your candidates stand on campaign finance reform?



For the Monitor
Monday, September 10, 2018

Tomorrow is primary day. Do you know where your candidates stand on campaign finance reform?

It doesn’t matter which primary you’re planning to vote in, you still need to ask that question. Concern about the influence of campaign donors is a top issue for all New Hampshire voters.

Eight in 10 Granite State voters say special interests have more influence than voters. Across the country, the number is even higher: 96 percent say elected officials pay more attention to donors than voters.

Yes, in our hyper-partisan, “divided” America, 96 percent of us agree that our campaign finance system is getting in the way of representative government.

Voters care about the issue. But do the politicians?

Open Democracy Action surveyed the state’s congressional candidates about their positions on money in politics. Some of the candidates didn’t bother to respond. And if we don’t know where those candidates stand on the issue, it’s a pretty safe conclusion that people planning to vote for them don’t know either.

Here’s where voter responsibility comes into play. The campaign finance system isn’t going to get fixed until voters elect enough candidates who are willing to fix it.

Do you care about the impact of money in politics? Do you know where your preferred candidates stand on the issue?

There’s still time for you to contact the campaigns and find out. There’s time for you to figure out whether fixing the system is a threshold voting issue for you.

Remember what 2016 was like? Even without counting the presidential campaign, more than $72.6 million was spent on New Hampshire’s 2016 elections, according to tracking by the National Institute on Money in Politics.

Barely a quarter of that money came from New Hampshire. Donors with District of Columbia addresses spent more on our elections than Granite Staters did. Donors from Massachusetts, New York, California, Virginia, Texas, Florida and Illinois chipped in more than a million dollars per state – just to influence our elections.

Add in spending on the presidential primary, and the numbers get even bigger. Ad Agetracked $128 million just in New Hampshire radio and television ads, just for the first-in-the-nation primary. And it’s a pretty sure bet most of that money didn’t come from Granite State donors. Whose elections are these, anyway?

The reason many candidates won’t commit to changing the system is because they benefit from it. Pundits use fundraising totals as a metric to predict who is going to win. It’s easier for a campaign to throw a lot of ads on the air, and on the internet, than it is to have the candidate talking with voters in living rooms and coffee shops. It’s quicker to design micro-targeted direct mail pieces than do door-to-door canvassing. It’s safer to sell a “brand” – an image of “who the candidate is” – than to let voters meet the candidate in person and decide for themselves.

The privately financed campaign system is set up to perpetuate itself. It’s a closed loop of raise money, spend money, raise more money – and actual voters and the public interest aren’t a very big part of that loop.

But there are ways to fix the problem. Some of the candidates this year are running to fix it. Think about all this, as you’re planning who to vote for tomorrow.

Open Democracy Action has the results of our congressional candidates’ survey and a scorecard of state legislators’ votes available on our website: OpenDemocracyAction.org. But you can also take a few minutes and call the campaigns and ask for yourself.

The important thing is: If you care about fixing the system, make sure the candidates you’re voting for do, too.

(Rick Bourdon is co-chair of Open Democracy Action. He lives in Lyme.)