Resident Questions Vote Change on Citizens United

Several Republican state representatives say they changed their votes on a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision, but were neither coerced nor pressured to vote a certain way.

Resident Corinne Dodge, a proponent of campaign finance reform, raised the question of coercion after some of the representatives changed their votes in a lengthy session on SB 136, which would have made New Hampshire the 17th state to request that the Federal government re-establish campaign finance reform. The New Hampshire Senate voted unanimously to support SB 136, but the House rejected it.

Derry was one of 69 New Hampshire municipalities calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, which critics say undid the work of the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

In that case the conservative group Citizens United wanted to air a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton and to advertise the film during television broadcasts. The move was in apparent violation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act or BCRA, commonly known as McCain-Feingold, which in its Section 203 defined an “electioneering communication” as a broadcast, cable, or satellite communication that mentioned a candidate within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary, and prohibited such expenditures by corporations and unions. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that Sec. 203 of BCRA applied and prohibited Citizens United from advertising “Hillary: The Movie” in broadcasts or paying to have it shown on television within 30 days of the 2008 Democratic primary elections.

The Supreme Court reversed this decision, striking down those provisions of BCRA that prohibited corporations – including nonprofit corporations – and unions from making independent expenditures and “electioneering communications.”

On Jan. 29, 2015, the Derry Town Council voted unanimously to support sending a resolution to Congress asking it to overturn the Citizens United decision. But less than a year later, the New Hampshire House voted against the resolution on Jan. 7 of this year.

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

The Web site for the New Hampshire Rebellion, a campaign finance reform group, states, “Five years after Citizens United, private interests on both the left and right have invested billions of dollars to shape the national debate and influence who gets elected. Politicians spend the bulk of their time raising money from a wealthy few rather than completing the job for which they were elected. Meanwhile, the majority of Americans are effectively excluded from lobbying and political participation for lack of funds, and tens of millions more working poor people face outright disenfranchisement at the polls.”

The organization asks supporters to sign a pledge, query Presidential candidates on their stance on campaign finance reform, and walk for the cause in the manner of Doris “Granny D.” Haddock, who brought attention to the cause with a transcontinental walk.

In a phone interview, Dodge said she contacted several of the 10 Republican representatives from Derry and asked them to support the amendment.

Dodge said the bill was passed by the Senate and then stayed in the house for eight months before finally going to a vote on Jan. 7. The original vote was 156-152 in favor of the amendment. Then came a vote to reconsider, as well as five other votes and a breakdown of the voting machines before the final vote of 144-159, in which the House voted not to support the amendment.

Dodge said she thinks some of the representatives changed their votes under coercion or pressure from Republican House leadership.

Rep. Phyllis Katsakiores, R-Derry said she changed her vote. “There were six votes taken,” Katsakiores said. “It was very confusing. The ‘whips’ were running around trying to get everyone in order.”

She supported Dodge’s request on the first five votes, but on the sixth changed to be more in harmony with Republican House leadership, she said.

Katsakiores said she did not feel coerced.

Rep. Bob Fesh, R-Derry also changed his vote after the Republican leadership went into a caucus and came out with a negative vote. “I voted against it with our leadership,” he said.

Rep. Katherine Prudhomme-O’Brien, R-Derry said she had discussed the issue with Dodge but hadn’t promised to vote for it, and she voted against it. “I believe in free speech,” Prudhomme-O’Brien explained. “It’s the same free speech corporations and unions get – but what’s the alternative? I support anybody saying what they want.”

Rep Thomas Cardon, R-Derry, however, confirmed that he did not change his vote. “Why would I?” he asked. “I support this. It’s time to get big money out of politics.”

Both Cardon and Katsakiores also serve on the Derry Town Council.