Open Democracy Action Releases Bipartisan Survey of 2018 NH Congressional Candidates

Citing a recent poll showing 80% of Granite Staters are concerned about money in politics, Open Democracy Action Co-Chair Rick Bourdon today released a crosspartisan survey of congressional candidates’ positions on the issue.

Making it clear that Open Democracy Action is not endorsing any candidate in this year’s congressional primaries, Bourdon said, “We do, however, endorse the idea that citizens should know where these candidates stand on the issue of campaign funding, before they decide how to vote.”

“Big-money, special interest domination over elections and policy blocks achievement of conservative objectives such as small government and fiscal and military restraint,” said former Republican state senator and 2016 candidate for US Senate Jim Rubens. “More Republican candidates should weigh in on solutions.”

Bourdon noted that candidates who responded to the survey hold a wide variety of positions.

According to the survey, several candidates endorsed the idea of public funding for campaigns so that, in the words of one candidate, “our elected leaders can spend less time raising money and more time legislating.” Open Democracy Action supported legislation this year that would have created a voluntary system to provide public funding for state-level campaigns. The New Hampshire Legislature has periodically considered similar legislation since a 1999 Legislative Study Committee recommended a system of “campaign financing alternatives.” Congress has considered legislation to publicly fund US House and Senate campaigns in almost every session since 1956. Using taxpayer money to fund congressional campaigns was first proposed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907.

Candidates endorsed other solutions in the survey, including: better disclosure; making voting easier; incentivizing small-dollar donors; and “closing loopholes that allow foreign entities to secretly donate money.”

Candidates also addressed the problem of independent expenditures. “One candidate supports the Citizens United decision allowing unlimited political spending, others oppose it,” Bourdon said. “Several candidates promised that, if elected, they would work for a constitutional amendment to overturn it. A Libertarian candidate says that ‘Corporations are not individuals nor Americans’ – and they shouldn’t be allowed to influence elections.”

According to the National Institute on Money in Politics, outside organizations spent more than $12 million influencing New Hampshire elections in 2016 – and that is just reported spending. “Right now, disclosure rules are complicated and there are a lot of loopholes,” Bourdon said. “We can’t see the full extent of political spending, that’s why the term ‘dark money’ evolved.”

Several candidates said they would be willing to take “The People’s Pledge” to discourage outside spending, like Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren did. In 2012, both candidates for US Senate in Massachusetts agreed that, for every dollar an outside group spent promoting them or attacking the other candidate, their respective campaigns would donate 50 cents to charity. The agreement caused a huge drop in outside spending, and a significant drop in negative advertising.

Bourdon observed that money in politics has become a distinguishing issue in this year’s congressional campaigns. “Most of the candidates are talking about the problem, and several of them are using their positions on it as a way of separating themselves from the rest of the crowded field,” Bourdon said. There are 15 candidates running in the First District congressional race and 10 in the Second District.

Campaign fundraising differences have become a frequent headline topic. According to the Federal Elections Commission, New Hampshire’s congressional candidates have already raised more than $6.3 million in this election. 

In 2016, the National Institute on Money in Politics tracked more than $72.5 million raised by federal and state-level campaigns in New Hampshire – not including presidential campaigns. “The amount of money being spent has skyrocketed in recent years, and it’s at the point where voters are overwhelmed. In 2016, we were inundated at our mailboxes, by phone calls, television ads, online ads— there was a flood of political spending,” Bourdon said. “It’s no wonder that voters are feeling drowned out.”  Polling shows that 80% of Granite State voters believe special interests have more influence in New Hampshire politics than voters.

In the Open Democracy Action survey, candidates described a variety of donation restrictions they have imposed on their own campaigns. Several are refusing corporate PAC money, others are refusing any PAC money. A couple of candidates will not accept money from lobbyists. One campaign is refusing money from the NRA and from the oil, gas, and coal industries. Some campaigns distinguish between in-state and out-of-state donations, and large versus small-dollar donations.

One candidate who responded to the survey isn’t taking any donations at all, saying “I have recycled signs from two years ago and I am walking up to 25 miles a day covering the First District.”

The full survey report is attached below, and available online HERE. Candidates’ answers were copied verbatim from their responses, even when the answers strayed from the question asked.

Open Democracy Action did not fact-check whether the campaigns were following the self-imposed restrictions reported by the candidates. Campaign fundraising information is available on the Federal Elections Commission website: records for First District candidates are available here; and here for Second District candidates. Clicking on a candidate’s name leads to a “Financial Summary” and more detailed data is available by clicking on the hyperlinked amounts for the various categories. The “Other committee contributions” category includes donations from other politicians’ committees, labor union and professional association PACs, “Leadership PACs” affiliated with particular elected officials, and other types of PACs.

“We know that voters are concerned about who is funding these campaigns, and why,” Bourdon said. “We expect candidates to talk more about the issue between now and election day, so that people can make informed decisions when they vote.” 

Some candidates did not respond to Open Democracy Action’s survey before the deadline. If any of those candidates respond later, their answers will be added to the online compilation.  

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