My Turn: Empower voters through ‘Civic Dollars’

For the Monitor
Published: 1/24/2018 12:15:10 AM

We are well aware of the power imbalance in our political system, here in New Hampshire and throughout the country. New Hampshire voters – regardless of age, race, gender or party affiliation – overwhelmingly agree that big money in our elections corrupts the system and results in laws and policies that benefit big donors at the expense of everyday people.

The disproportionate influence of those who make major political contributions ultimately affects which policies are even considered, but that’s only the beginning. Big-money politics limits who can run for office, and even more, who has a realistic chance to win. Numerous polls, including one released this month, show that New Hampshire voters are hungry for solutions to restore balance. When 80 percent of voters see big money in New Hampshire elections as a problem, it’s well past time for the Legislature to find a fix.

The Legislature is currently considering a bipartisan solution, House Bill 1773, which would dilute the power of wealthy donors by strengthening the voices of all voters. In election years, we registered voters would get four $25 certificates apiece to donate to participating candidates of our choice. To participate, candidates would have to agree not to accept large donations, and face penalties if they did. Civic Dollars would focus candidates for governor, state Senate and Executive Council on the needs of everyday people rather than the wishes of wealthy donors.

Critics will claim it won’t work, but similar systems already are in cities and states around the country. For nearly two decades, widespread participation in Maine’s Clean Election system has meant elected officials spend more time listening to, and working for, all residents rather than focusing on the tiny population of wealthy donors. In Seattle, a system nearly identical to Civic Dollars greatly increased political participation and changed the kinds of people able to run for office. It also changed the issues the candidates focused on and decreased big donations accepted by candidates.

The costs of our current system go beyond dollars. Pharmaceutical and drug companies and their lobbyists spent $664,399 toward the campaigns of New Hampshire. Last fall, a whistleblower told CBS’s 60 Minutes that drug industry lobbyists and Congress undercut Drug Enforcement Agency efforts to stem the flow of opioids to some communities hard-hit by the opioid crisis. And some Americans can’t afford, or can barely afford, essential medications partly because Congress bars Medicare from negotiating lower prices.

At a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event this month, all the children were invited to join Gov. Chris Sununu onstage. My daughter and others did, and enthusiastically rang bells to “Let Freedom Ring.” But we all know that letting freedom ring requires having a fair, trusted electoral and political system – for us and our children. Passing HB 1773 this year would be an important first step.

Our elected officials have a duty and responsibility to fix this broken, un-American campaign finance system. And We the People must demand it and keep demanding it, raising our voices until freedom truly rings.

(Olivia Zink is executive director of Open Democracy, a Concord-based, non-partisan organization. She lives in Franklin. See the poll at opendemocracynh.org/polling_data_ppp.)




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