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Senate strikes a compromise

Bill would study Citizens United

On March 27, the New Hampshire State Senate voted, 23 to 1, to move forward Senate Bill 307, which calls for creation of a committee to examine the impact of the Citizens United ruling.

This vote came after senators defeated proposed language calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. The amended language was voted down 12 to 12, falling short of the needed majority in a near party-line vote.

“This begins the process of looking at Citizens United on a New Hampshire-specific basis,” said Sen. Jeb Bradley (R - Wolfeboro) in an interview on Monday. “SB 307 is a study bill with a chance to take into consideration all of the different issues that are at stake.”

The bill comes on the heels of an election season where New Hampshire residents passed petition articles at 48 town meetings across the state calling for the state legislature to support a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The ruling gave corporations permission to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.

Local towns that passed warrant articles calling to overturn the ruling include Francestown, Dublin, Jaffrey, Rindge, Hancock (where it passed by just one vote ) and Sharon. Peterborough will have a warrant article at its town meeting on May 13.

Some proponents of the petition articles have said the Senate bill does not reflect the wishes of the majority.

“People in New Hampshire have made it very clear that they want a change. We see this committee as a way of not acting,” said senior organizer Jonah Minkofs-Zern of Public Citizen, an organization that has been heavily involved with the issue of campaign finance reform. “New Hampshire is calling for a constitutional amendment. The House needs to amend the bill’s language to reflect that.”

Thirty-six of the 48 towns in New Hampshire that voted to pass a resolution were in Senate districts held by Republicans, which proponents say shows bipartisan support for a constitutional amendment.

The proposed committee of legislators will be comprised of two senators and two house members, according to Bradley, and will offer equal representation to both political parties. The bill calls for the committee to present its findings and recommendations to the state legislature by Nov. 1.

“Then we will know whether or not there should be further finance reform,” said Bradley.

SB 307 will now moves to the N.H. House of Representatives for a vote. The House has the opportunity to amend the bill to include the statement that the legislature recognizes the need for a constitutional amendment.

State Representative Jill Hammond (D-Peterborough) does not know how big of an impact the state can have on a national level.

“Campaign finance reform is a national issue. Any efforts we make here at the state level are pretty ineffectual,” Hammond said recently. “It’s a murky issue. I’m wondering what we do after the committee looks at it. I’m generally in favor of campaign finance reform and limiting big corporate money. I think the deeper problem is the power of corporations and the concentration of money they can wield.”

Hammond believes that the state benefits from campaign finances in some ways.

“New Hampshire is unique because we are the first state to vote in the primaries,” she said. “Lots of candidates visit and we benefit financially from that.”

Sen. Peggy Gilmour (D- Hollis) weighed in on the bill in an interview on Monday.

“The bill is very important,” Gilmour said. “I come from a town that had this as a warrant article. At Town Meeting, people were shocked that anyone would oppose such a warrant article. People have been scratching their heads for four years on this issue.”

Sen. Nancy Stiles (R-Hampton) is in support of forming a committee.

“I supported the bill, I have no problem looking into anything. Putting time in to further understand an issue is never a bad thing,” said Stiles.

When asked for her thoughts on the 2010 Supreme Court decision, Stiles said, “I have to respect what the court does. If I had a problem with it, I would have fought it beforehand.”

Sen. Jeff Woodburn (D-Dalton) believes fighting for campaign finance reform is common sense for New Hampshire.

“Anything that we can do to get away from special interest groups is good,” Woodburn said on Tuesday. “The ballot box is where everyone is equal, no matter how much money they have. New Hampshire does democracy better than anyone else.”

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