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By LOU D’ALLESANDRO
Open government is not owned by anyone but the people.
When a citizen in my district chooses to speak his or her mind, that person can walk through the doors of the State House without being stopped or questioned and can walk directly into my office. My door is always open.
As New Hampshire citizens, we believe this is right because we believe that the Capitol is the people’s house and that our job as legislators is to serve the people. I try to embody this belief and work very hard to respond to my constituents, even stopping in the hallways between sessions to hear what they have to say. If we disagree, we might even have a debate.
Such respect and openness to our constituents is the envy of other states, where the citizenry may not have as direct access to their elected officials.
However, with every election we see the further encroachment of outside groups and interests in influencing our elections. This threat to our democracy is the direct result of the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC. Now, dark money groups with secret donors can attempt to push their pet projects on lawmakers with possibly dishonest or underhanded tactics.
These outside groups do not understand our pride in service to our constituents, but their influence is felt all the same. Now, rather than hearing voices of our constituents on the merit of the argument, we lawmakers are forced to contend with the threat of overwhelming finances of special interest groups should we choose to vote with our conscience.
This only serves to disenfranchise both the lawmakers and our constituents. We feel this frustration so deeply that, when I was at a forum held in Manchester, former Senator Majority Leader George Mitchell, who spoke, said that the Citizens United decision was a very bad decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court.
This threat to our democracy must be met with a forceful and immediate response. Last year, I supported a bill calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Unfortunately, this bill failed to pass the legislature, and the problem has only worsened since. In the 2014 congressional election, outside groups spent more than 49 million dollars on three congressional races in New Hampshire- one of the highest amounts of outside spending in the nation.
The citizens of New Hampshire see this continual erosion of our democracy, and are appalled. According to a University of New Hampshire Survey Center Granite State Poll, 69 percent of residents have said that they would support a constitutional amendment that limits corporate campaign contributions and spending.
This support includes majorities on both sides of the political spectrum as well as independents. Furthermore, 56 towns in New Hampshire passed town warrants in support of a constitutional amendment, including a unanimous vote in the conservative town of Derry. On this issue, I have listened to concerned citizens from all walks of life – from high school students to seniors, and small business owners to farmers – who spoke on the issue. I’ve rarely seen an issue with such deep and bipartisan support.
It is imperative that, as legislators, we respond to our constituents and show them we can address this issue and restore trust in our government. Therefore, I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass SB 136 this year.
1) Azem Z., Smith, A., Granite State Poll, April 18, 2013. The University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
2) www.nh4democracy.org (NH Towns with Town Warrant Articles)
(Lou D’Allesandro is a Democratic state Senator who is now in his ninth term serving District 20, which comprises Goffstown and Wards 3, 4, 10 and 11 in the City of Manchester. He has also been an Executive Councilor and a member of the state House of Representatives.)