Time to rebel against big money in politics

Five years after the Citizens United decision, elections for public office have become a private good

In January, a band of “Granny D walkers” will put on their boots in Dixville Notch and take to the road in the New Hampshire Rebellion against big money in politics.

One week later, walkers will join the New Hampshire Rebellion in Portsmouth, Nashua and Keene, taking inspiration from New Hampshire’s late legendary reformer Doris “Granny D” Haddock, who walked cross-country at age 90 for campaign finance reform, back in 1999. 

From Jan. 11-21, hundreds of walkers will log thousands of miles touching hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens with one simple message: We, the people, are not for sale. They will walk through sun, snow and sleet, and sleep in churches, homes and motels until they arrive in Concord.

On Jan. 21, the walkers will converge on the state capitol to raise their voices in a unison declaration of independence from big money in politics. 

Their cause is as old, and as bold, as our own state constitution. Adopted in its first iteration on Jan. 5, 1776 – six months before the Declaration of Independence was signed at Philadelphia – the New Hampshire constitution declares in no uncertain terms that government is “instituted for the common benefit … not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, or class of men.” 

Their grievance is shared by the vast majority of American citizens, in New Hampshire and beyond.

Five years after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the floodgates to unlimited political spending, elections for public office have become a private good.

Here in New Hampshire, the 2014 midterm elections set a staggering, sobering new trend. Close to $100 million was spent on state and congressional races, most of it coming from out-of-state interests who care little for our people. Of the roughly $60 million that was spent on the U.S. Senate contest alone, the majority of dollars came from a handful of “independent” spenders, many of them undisclosed.

Even money raised by the candidates themselves was grossly unrepresentative of the public at large. A fraction of 1 percent of Americans provided the lion’s share of campaign funds in 2014, giving amounts that few of us can fathom to buy access and influence in politics.

The money is not well spent in the eyes of most voters. As anyone within earshot of a TV can attest, 2014 ranked as the most negative election in state history, with some 90 percent of all ads aired against a candidate.

To the special interests, however, such contributions are found to provide a hefty return on investment. One need not look further than our mangled tax code or generous subsidies for energy, agriculture, pharmaceutical and other entrenched industries.

The framers of New Hampshire’s constitution, like their counterparts in Philadelphia, strongly disapproved of any governmental arrangement that favored “one man or class of men” – but they didn’t stop there. 

Article 10 of the state constitution goes one step further: “Whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered … the people may and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government.”

That is precisely what the New Hampshire Rebellion intends to do peacefully. 

In short order, the presidential candidates will be traveling to New Hampshire to court our votes. They will tell us that energy and the environment, taxes and trade, health care and housing, education and the economy, deficits and the national debt are pressing public concerns. 

As a bipartisan band of citizens, we agree.

But there is another prior problem that cannot be ignored: In fact, our ability as a nation to meet the many challenges we face hinges on our ability to address this fundamental issue once and for all: the corrupting influence of big money in politics.

As such, we welcome the candidates to our state on one condition: that the pledge to stop big money on day one.

New Hampshire may not speak for the nation on every issue, but on this issue of systemic corruption, the vast majority of Americans are aligned – 96 percent, to be precise, according to a recent survey conducted by the Global Strategy Group. Yet 91 percent doubt that meaningful reform is possible anytime soon.

We intend to prove them wrong – with their help.

We call on every citizen who is concerned about the state of our republic to join our New Hampshire Rebellion against big money in politics and walk with us – for a mile, a day or all the way. Our future as a great nation is at stake.

Daniel Weeks is executive director of Open Democracy in Concord.

Categories: Opinion