By Jim Splaine
New Hampshire’s Doris “Granny D.” Haddock walked across this nation in the cause of getting money out of elections. She was almost 90 years old when she arrived on foot in Washington, D.C. after walking from California advocating for election finance reform. I got to know her very well as she worked at the Statehouse to get similar reforms, and I sponsored two bills to help her cause.
Getting money out of our elections, not inventing new ways to put it in, should be a cause for all of us. Unfortunately, Colin Van Ostern, who once ran for Governor and obviously wants to again, has for the first time in our state’s history added the ingredient of cash — and lots of it — into his race for Secretary of State, the person who most ensures that our elections are honest.
Once the ingredient of cash is added to our elections, it cannot be sifted out. It’s like trying to separate sugar from salt. There is no way any elected official who opposes Citizens United — which allows the influx of even more money into our political system — can now support the actions of Colin Van Ostern.
According to the most recent financial fund-raising and spending reports filed over his signature, available for anyone to see on the Secretary of State WEBSITE, he has raised well over $250,000. Put another way, that’s a quarter of a million dollars. Put yet another way since there are 424 people who will vote on who should fill that office — 400 State Representatives and 24 Senators — that’s about $600 a vote.
Some $100,000 of that comes in large donations from out-of-state contributors and other major contributors. He has spent about $100,000 on public relations companies and other services of his political action committee (PAC). He spent another $100,000 on his staff, and related expenses.
Mr. Van Ostern has stated all along that his fundraising was to help Democrats get elected, but shockingly his campaign reports show that he made NO campaign donations to candidates. He kept it all to himself to promote and buy his year-long effort to become Secretary of State.
Longtime Secretary of State Bill Gardner, by contrast, has never accepted contributions, or hired a public relations firm. He has supervised our elections for decades with an unquestioned moral compass. One of the duties of the office is to officiate over recounts — and he has conducted hundreds of those through the years.
There has never been a question about the integrity of Secretary Gardner in carrying out this function, unlike in other states where such offices are influenced by political donations. Let’s keep it that way.
Ethically, it must be the voters who are sacred, not those who contribute to a campaign. By not ever accepting contributions, Bill Gardner has been able to run our elections without bias and without returning favors to anyone. I challenge anyone to show otherwise.
I think it’s shameful that Mr. Van Ostern has turned his latest political campaign into a money-maker, and he should give the money back.
I served 30 years in the N.H. House and Senate, and have known Bill Gardner all of that time. I have seen up close that our elections have been run with integrity and without partisanship under the watchful eye of a staff of professionals led by Bill Gardner. We should continue that approach. While other states have seen politics and deceit in the way their elections are run, our state has avoided that.
Consider this: with the N.H. First-In-The-Nation Presidential Primary at stake, turning candidacies for Secretary of State into a political money-making machine can greatly put the importance of our lead-off status at risk. Just look at the current cases of Georgia and Kansas, and the chads of Florida a few years ago.
We just cannot allow monied interest to become involved in our election process. The supervisor of our elections must remain as free and insulated from political influence and the corrupting power of money, rather than adding partisanship and fundraising into the mix.
As N.H. Legislators make their choice for Secretary of State, each must consider whether they want to set this new precedent for our future. We need less money in the election process, not more. Less politics, not more. We are better than that.
In 1995, because of fundraising similar to what is now going on in New Hampshire, the State of Maine passed the following law, Title 21-A: Elections, Chapter 13, Subchapter 4:
“The Secretary of State, the Treasurer of State, the Attorney General, the State Auditor, or any individual running for these officers, may not form a political action committee or be involved in decision making for or solicit contributions to a political action committee.”
New Hampshire needs a law like that.
Former House Representative (24 years)
Former State Senator (6 years)
Proudly A Lifelong Democrat
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