Saturday, September 6, 2008

Costs to Run for Public Office in NH Rising

The New Hampshire Coalition for Public Funding of Elections (NHCPFE) on Tuesday released data on campaign expenditures in 2004 and 2006 by candidates for governor, executive council and state senate. The data show sharp increases in spending from 2004 to 2006; they also demonstrate a wide range of expenditures by candidates for the same office.
In 2004, for example, an Executive Council race cost as much as $88,292 or as little as less than $500; in 2006, the priciest Executive Council race cost $253,366. In 2004, the average state senate race cost $40,478; in 2006, the average cost had climbed to $54,643. Costs for 2008 are also expected to increase.
NHCPFE released the data at a public hearing held in Concord by a new commission convened to explore possible funding mechanisms for a system of publicly financed of elections in N.H. The hearing, which lasted more than three hours, was attended by dozens of organizational representatives, activists and legislators, many of whom shared ideas on how a system of publicly financed elections could be funded in our state. The commission must make its recommendations to the legislature no later than Dec. 1 of this year.
In speaking before the seven-member, bipartisan commission, NHCPFE Coordinator Cathy Silber summarized the commission's charge as "figuring out how much such a system will cost, and then figuring out how to pay for it." Determining the overall cost of the system, she said, depends on which offices it covers, the amount of public funds allocated to candidates for each office, and the number of candidates that participate in the voluntary system.
"Analyzing recent spending by candidates for governor, state senator and executive council is the first step in determining how much money will be needed to fund a system of voter-owned elections in New Hampshire," said Silber. "The data show a good deal of variability in what candidates are spending. NHCPFE is going to be looking more closely at these data and will soon provide the commission with a recommendation for what we believe is enough to run an effective campaign. Enough, but no more."
The data compiled and released by NHCPFE makes these expenditures readily comparable, over time, across districts, by political party, by margin of victory, and other factors.
"These data will be very helpful to the commission as it costs out a new system," said Silber.
State Senators Martha Fuller Clark and Jackie Cilley, both of whom spoke at the hearing, attributed rising campaign costs most directly to the cost of political advertising. Demonstrating their strong commitment to making public funding a reality in NH, the two senators also brought ideas for potential funding to the table. Among them were: a surcharge on political advertising, fees for posting political signs on public lands, and fees paid by parties or others seeking to access town voter files. NHCPFE also provided the commission with other resources, such as a report by the Center for Governmental Studies that reviews a myriad of possible funding sources for the public financing of elections, including those used in other states.
Most of the speakers agreed that House races, the majority of which are relatively inexpensive, should not be included in a public funding system in New Hampshire, a position supported by NHCPFE. All who spoke stressed the importance of public funding of elections as a way to make public service accessible to all qualified candidates, not just those who can raise the most money.
"The growing expense of running for office effectively bars people without access to money from public service," said Linda Garrish Thomas of New Hampshire Citizens Alliance.

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