Friday, July 18, 2008

NH Citizen Coalition announces Public Funding of Elections Commission [with some thoughts]

From the inbox:

The New Hampshire Coalition for Public Funding of Elections is pleased to announce the appointment of the Public Funding of Elections Commission.

Established by HB794, the commission will develop a plan to create and fund a voluntary system of public financing for election campaigns for the offices of governor, executive councilor and state senator. The commission’s report and recommendations are due December 1, 2008.

The commissioners were appointed for their expertise in public funding of elections, their knowledge of state budget issues, and bipartisan balance. They are:

Stuart Comstock-Gay, Concord Democrat and director of the Democracy Program at Demos: A Network of Ideas and Action,

Abigail Abrash Walton, Independent from Keene and faculty member at Antioch University New England;

John Rauh, New Castle Democrat and president of Americans for Campaign Reform;

Jim Rubens, Republican, former state senator from Etna;

Martin Honigberg, Concord Democrat, attorney at Sulloway and Hollis;

Brad Cook, Republican from Manchester , attorney at Sheehan, Phinney, Bass, and Green; and

Barbara Hilton, Independent Citizen Activist from Portsmouth .

Comstock-Gay and Abrash Walton were appointed by the president of the senate; Rauh and Rubens were appointed by the speaker of the house; Honigberg and Cook were appointed by the governor, and Hilton was appointed by the secretary of state.

Research by the New Hampshire Coalition for Public Funding of Elections shows that the cost of running a successful campaign for state senate can reach as much as $100,000. This effectively bars many qualified people from public service. Public financing of elections makes it possible for a wider range of people to run for office. Candidates qualify for funding by gathering a certain number of signatures and small dollar donations; once they agree to certain conditions, such as using no private money and participating in a certain number of debates, they are provided enough money to run a competitive race. The system is voluntary—no one is required to use it. But those who opt in can use the time they would otherwise spend with big donors talking with voters about issues. Once elected, officials answer only to voters, not donors.

Public funding of elections enjoys broad bi-partisan public support in New Hampshire , which is still poised to become one of the first states in the union to adopt it, after Arizona , Maine , and Connecticut .

Commissioners and legislative leaders alike agree that the commission’s greatest challenge will be to find a way to finance a public funding of elections system in the current economic climate. Undaunted by this challenge, Commissioner Rubens said, "The state's budget difficulties are no less pressing than our need for a campaign funding system that restores the primacy of voters over donors. I am confident that this commission has the ingenuity required to find the needed funding sources.”

The New Hampshire Coalition for Public Funding of Elections includes individuals who have long fought for public financing—including Doris “Granny D” Haddock, and citizen organizations such as the League of Women Voters and New Hampshire Citizens Alliance.

Some thoughts:
This is pretty exciting news and actually, a very good cross-section of individuals on the Commission.
It is also nice to see two "independent" members on the panel because I fear that whatever plan gets created, independents and "non-credible" candidates, in the eyes of the major parties, will be kept out of the loop.
That is my problem with Americans for Campaign Reform, John Rauh's group. In their plan, indies are not included, at least that is what he told me back in 2004 when I interviewed him for a radio station in Boston I was doing reports for. Maybe it has changed since then. Unfortunately, the fear of "non-credible" and "independent" candidates getting the funding is used to keep different candidates other than the two major parties from getting access. It happens all the time. The example that is usually given is that candidates from some obscure party like the American Nazi Party or something will get the funding. It is a lame excuse and illegitimate excuse. But, you know, in reality, what is good for one party should be good enough for another. Any public funding plan must include funding for independent candidates, whether "credible" or not, with no extra restrictions than the major party candidates will have. Credibility is in the eye of the beholder.
In addition, I would like to see them expand the coverage to Legislative candidates as well. While some may think only the big races need money, the small races do too. There are competitive races there and it takes a lot of money and time to bump off an entrenched incumbent.
Lastly, I think the biggest problem about "qualified" people not running is the fact that state reps. and senators don't make any money! Few "qualified" people who aren't already rich are able to run for those seats because they take too much time away from earning a living. Now, don't me wrong, I love the romanticism of the "citizen" Legislature. I also have seen how corrupt the system can become when the job of legislator becomes a well-paid endeavor. They become entrenched and you can never get rid of them.
That said, another commission should be set up to analyze this problem too.

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