Take the ‘We the People’ pledge
When I served in the New Hampshire House of Representatives in the 1980s, nobody gave much thought to money in politics. Few state representatives even bothered to raise money for their campaigns. State Senate races rarely cost more than a few thousand dollars. Our primary resource was time, which we had in equal measure and which we generally devoted to knocking on doors and talking with voters face-to-face.
Even New Hampshire’s gubernatorial and congressional elections were small potatoes compared to today. When I sought the Republican nomination for Congress in 1988, challengers raised a measly $271,000 on average (adjusted for inflation). Our donations came from citizens in amounts of $1,000 or less, generally much less. Ideas mattered more than dollars.
It’s a brave new world today.
As anyone who has a TV or mailbox can attest, it’s not uncommon for gubernatorial and congressional candidates and their super PAC backers to spend millions or even tens of millions of dollars getting their message across.
To make the cut, members of Congress devote 30 to 70 percent of their time, by their own admission, dialing for dollars from wealthy donors – not representing their constituents. Those races, in turn, pale in comparison to the amount of special-interest money flooding the presidential campaigns, which are projected to reach into the billions of dollars in 2016.
Making matters worse, our elected leaders live in constant fear that a single vote of conscience might cause one billionaire super PAC or another to launch negative TV attacks that shade the truth and drive all but the most extreme voters away from the polls. Those ads are increasingly funded with secret, out-of-state money.
The result is government "solutions" to our nation’s biggest problems that amount to little more than the sum of all lobbies. Take the national debt, for example, which grows bigger by the day as politicians grant special favors to special interests that fund their campaigns.
As the libertarian Cato Institute reports, America spends around $100 billion a year in corporate welfare subsidies that squelch small business and violate the basic principles of free-market competition. Closer to home, Northern Pass and Kinder Morgan are spending millions of dollars in lobbying and campaign donations for the right to access public lands for private gain.
That kind of crony capitalism and wasteful spending are enough to leave any small-government conservative – or any sensible American, for that matter – sick to their stomach. It is also enough to motivate the vast majority of Americans – 85 percent in a recent New York Times poll – to call for fundamental changes to the way we fund campaigns.
The devil is, of course, in the details. And while some are daunted by the sheer scope of the task, others here in New Hampshire have been working to create a bipartisan, citizen-driven package of reforms.
These six reforms, collectively called the We the People Agenda, demand that we expose secret donors and require full transparency; ban bribes from lobbyists and government contractors; ban super PACs and overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision; establish small-donor, citizen-funded elections; end gerrymandering and modernize voter registration; close loopholes and enforce campaign finance laws.
Between now and the primary, Granite Staters will be asked en masse to sign the We the People Pledge and take that same Pledge to the presidential candidates. These reforms will take us a long way to restoring our Founders’ vision of a government "dependent upon the people alone."
Stopping big money in politics will not be easy. Washington special interests have too much at stake to relinquish their undue influence without a fight, and party insiders are only too happy to keep things the way they are. Only one thing will make them change: a grassroots, cross-partisan movement of citizens ready and willing to rebel against big money politics and walk the talk for reform.
That’s why I’m proud to continue the work of my political mentor, New Hampshire’s late Republican Sen. Warren Rudman, and walk alongside thousands of other Granite Staters from across the political spectrum as part of the New Hampshire Rebellion. I hope you will join me in signing the We the People pledge.
Betty Tamposi, a Nashua native, served as a New Hampshire state representative and as assistant secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush. She is an advisory board member of Open Democracy and the New Hampshire Rebellion.