No Action on Legislative Resolution on Campaign Spending

The Derry Town Council took no action on a request from a resident to send a resolution to the state Legislature, and ultimately to Congress, condemning the influx of out-of-state dollars and out-of-state influence on New Hampshire’s elections.

Resident Corinne Dodge spoke in the public comment portion of the Jan. 6 meeting, urging the Council to take action.

Dodge said in the last election, culminating in the November general election, large amounts of campaign funding came from large corporations, unions and wealthy individuals. “They gave an excessively large amount of campaign funds and it was a corrupting influence,” Dodge said, referencing negative ads on television.

Dodge said that 56 towns have passed resolutions urging a stop to the practice and 40 more towns were working on warrant articles for March.

Under Derry’s charter and Council system, citizens don’t do petitioned warrant articles but rather go to the Council with a request, she said.

According to Dodge, the ultimate goal of the effort is to “call on Congress to approve a Constitutional Amendment to safeguard our election process and regulate political spending.”

If Derry produces a resolution, she said, she’d like to see copies sent to the State Senate, House of Representatives, the Speaker of the House and the Senate President.

A Supreme Court decision, Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, in 2009 saw limits removed on campaign contributions. “This overturned the McCain-Feingold reform act of 2002,” Dodge said, “and we were flooded with out-of-state and special interest contributions.”

The result was negative attack ads from both Democrats and Republicans, Dodge said.

Because of the competition for those dollars, many candidates and incumbents spend “30 to 40 percent of their time raising money instead of tending to the people’s business,” Dodge said.

She made reference to a poll in which 75 percent of Democrats surveyed, 65 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of Independents wanted to see limits on contributions. “The ordinary voter is fed up with big money and they want change,” she said.

Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores asked for clarification on Dodge’s request.

“I’m asking you to decide if this is a resolution you can support, and then to notify Concord,” Dodge responded. “Most of the other towns have voted by warrant article, but it’s my understanding that you as the Council make the decision.”

Katsakiores wondered how this could be practically enforced. “If I had $1 million and I wanted my friend to be governor, I would put my money into it,” she said.

“My concern,” Dodge said, “is the large amounts of money coming into the state.”

Charles Zoeller, chairman of the Derry Democratic Committee, spoke in favor of supporting a resolution. He clarified that Dodge’s main point was not necessarily the amounts of money, but the power wielded by large corporations and unions.

“There are now opportunities for loopholes and they can slip past the rules,” he said.

Former State Representative Mary Till, a Democrat, said the country is becoming an oligarchy, a form of government where power is wielded by the rich and well-connected. The Citizens United decision, she said, turned government from a “one person, one vote” democracy to a “one dollar, one vote” oligarchy.

“We need to get our campaigns back under control,” Till said.

The Council thanked the speakers but took no formal action on the issue.