Council Supports Resolution to Overturn ‘Citizens United’

The Derry Town Council has added its support to a resolution intended to limit campaign financing from out-of-state donors.

At the Jan. 6 meeting, the Council heard from resident Corinne Dodge on the issue of campaign finance reform. Dodge and other community members expressed concern about the negative attacks in the November general election and the prevalence of out-of-state donors who gave lots of money to influence candidates.

They asked the Council to pass a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, which they say undid the work of the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

The Washington-based group Public Citizen, which is advocating for reform, said in the New Hampshire 2012 gubernatorial race that followed the ruling, outside groups spent $19 million, five times what candidates spent.

Dodge and others are urging the Council to sign the resolution, which will be forwarded to the New Hampshire legislature and ultimately to Congress.

In the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Marc Flattes urged the Council to sign the resolution. “This will mean just New Hampshire voting for New Hampshire,” he said.

Dodge took the microphone to explain again why she was doing this. “I know many people who are writing petitions, making phone calls, writing letters. They are not being heard,” she said.

Dodge reminded the Council and television audience of the New Hampshire Rebellion walk, in which citizens are walking in memory of Doris “Granny D” Haddock, a New Hampshire woman who crossed the country on foot to publicize the need for campaign finance reform. The McCain-Feingold Act restricted campaign financing and the Citizens United decision in January 2009 effectively overturned it, she said.

Charles Zoeller, chairman of the Derry Democrats, said at the time of the Citizens United decision it was hailed as a victory for free speech. But in polls, he said, Americans have equated Citizens United as “a disastrous decision for democracy.”

In an April 2012 survey, Zoeller said, 69 percent of Americans agreed that “new rules that let corporations, unions and people give unlimited money to Super Pacs will lead to corruption.” A Pac is a Political Action Committee.

Unlimited money from big government also doesn’t help small businesses, Zoeller added. In another survey he referenced, 66 percent of small business owners said the Supreme Court decision was bad for them. “When it comes to political donations, Main Street can’t compete with Wall Street,” Zoeller said.

When the item came up on their agenda, Council members had a number of questions.

Michael Fairbanks asked if the Council should go through its legislative liaison, State Rep. David Milz.

Councilor Tom Cardon asked former State Rep. Mary Till, an advocate of the resolution, if this had been addressed by any other amendment, and Till sketched the process of amending the Constitution. There are two avenues, she said. In one, Congress puts forth the amendment, which then needs a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate, after which it goes to the individual states and needs three-quarters of the states to approve it.

The other avenue is the Convention of States, she said. “Our forefathers were suspicious of power in the hands of just a few people,” she said. “They had greater confidence in the states.” The Constitution provides for an amendment to be adopted if it is put forth by two-thirds of the states. It should be approved in a so-called Convention of States, and then go to all the states. If three-fourths of the states approve, it becomes an amendment, she said.

Councilor Joshua Bourdon said, “A couple of weeks ago, Ms. Dodge called me and we talked about this. She asked me in what manner we should bring this forth. I was impressed with her passion, and since one of my goals is to get more citizen involvement, I asked her to be the speaker.”

The beauty of local government, Bourdon said, is that “We are just a phone call away.”

He also emphasized that this is a nonpartisan issue. “We need to level the playing field,” he said. “Your vote should count as well as your wealth.”

Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores said she supported the resolution 100 percent, but warned that “While this is a worthwhile goal, we know the rich will spend millions to try to kill it.” But New Hampshire will fight on, Katsakiores added.

The resolution was approved, 7 to 0.