draining the concord swamp

If you want to improve the quality of our politics in Concord, then you need to improve how they get elected - and it starts with how they raise money. 


Today, the incentives are clear: Focus on the people, corporations, and PACs who can give large contributions, whether they are in-state or not. Time is literally money, with candidates regularly spending 80% or more of their time raising money, typically through hours of “call time”. The calls are focused on those who each can give $250, $500, $1000, or more in a single phone call. If you aren’t likely to give at those levels, the candidate won’t call you - the time must be spent on those with the highest capacity to give. And many of New Hampshire’s biggest corporations, interest groups, and donors are in the middle of all of it.


So here’s the goal: Let’s get PAC money, corporate contributions, out-of-state contributions, and big-dollar donors out of candidate’s campaigns, and let’s instead reward candidates for building a wide base of low-dollar, in-state donors.


Leadership is about more than identifying problems; it is about having the courage, competence, and vision to offer real solutions. Some candidates will claim that simply refusing “corporate PAC’ contributions is equivalent to getting the “dark money” out of politics, but that is simply rhetoric. We must go big, get specific, show courage - and lead. Here’s a proven way to do exactly that:


Assumptions:

1) There are three levels of state elections where relatively big money, and the sources of money, are impacting the way people campaign: State Senate, Executive Council, and Governor. 

2) Because we do not have a nominating convention process like CT, MA, and others, any sustainable system needs to have a relatively high threshold for eligibility for public funds in the primary process, or else you'll see an explosion of primary candidates who will simply go for the public money.

3) The amount of the public match must be attractive enough to draw most candidates to it.


State Senate and Executive Council:

- Contributions between $5 and $100 are eligible for the public funding ("eligible contributions").

- You must raise $20K from eligible contributions in order to receive the public funding. 

- At least $10K of that $20K must come from inside your district

- Up to $8K of that $20K can come from in-state, but out-of-district

- No more than $2K of it can come from out-of-state

- You may contribute no more than $5K in personal funds to the campaign, but if you do, it will be subtracted from your public funding.

- Any contributions you accept in excess of $100 will not count towards the above requirements, and they will be subtracted from your public funding.

- If you choose to accept the public funding, you cannot accept corporate contributions or PAC money.

- Once you successfully hit the $20K in eligible contributions, you will receive an additional $20K (minus any personal funds or +$100 contributions you accepted) within 10 days. You must agree not to exceed $40K in spending before the primary.

- If you win the primary, you will received an additional $40K in public funding 48 hours after the primary. You must agree not to exceed $80K in total spending for the entire campaign if you are the nominee. You may roll over any of the unspent $40K from the primary cycle into the general election.

- If an opponent in the primary or general election chooses not to participate in the public finance system, and exceeds either the $40K primary limits or the $80K general election limit, those candidates who participate in the public finance system will receive public funds to match the expenditures of those who do not participate.


Governor:

- Contributions between $5 and $100 are eligible for the public funding ("eligible contributions").

- You must raise $250K from eligible contributions in order to receive the public funding. 

- At least $225K of that $250K must come from inside New Hampshire.

- You may contribute no more than $20K in personal funds to the campaign, but if you do, it will be subtracted from your public funding.

- Any contributions you accept in excess of $100 will not count towards the above requirements, and they will be subtracted from your public funding.

- If you choose to accept the public funding, you cannot accept corporate contributions or PAC money.

- Once you successfully hit the $250K in eligible contributions, you will receive an additional $500K (minus any personal funds or +$100 contributions you accepted) within 10 days. You must agree not to exceed $750K in spending before the primary.

- If you win the primary, you will received an additional $2.0 million in public funding after the primary. You must agree not to exceed $2.75 million in total spending for the entire campaign if you are the nominee. You may roll over any of the unspent $750K from the primary cycle into the general election.

- If an opponent in the primary or general election chooses not to participate in the public finance system, and exceeds either the $750K primary limits or the $2.75 million general election limit, those candidates who participate in the public finance system will receive public funds to match the expenditures of those who do not participate.

In addition, regardless of whether or not a candidate participates in the voluntary public finance system:

  • The limit for individual contributions would be reduced to $1,000 total ($500 for the primary, $500 for the general).
  • Corporate contributions would no longer be permitted.


Cost estimates for the plan:

Senate:

General: 48 nominees X $60K total public support = $2.88 million

Primary: 48 non-nominees who qualify X $20K in primary support = $960K


Executive Council:

General: 10 nominees X $60K total public support = $600K

Primary:  10 non-nominees who qualify X $20K in primary support = $200K


Governor:

General: 2 nominees X $2.5 million total public support = $5 million

Primary: 6 non-nominees who qualify X $500K in primary support = $3 million


There are 60 general election slots involved (48 Senate nominees, 10 EC nominees, and 2 gubernatorial nominees). If all 60 involved "primaries" where nobody except the nominee reached the requirements for public funding, but all 60 did reach the requirement, the cost would be $8.48 million every two years, or $4.24 million per year.


In the higher-cost model, where every primary for every State Senate and Executive Council seat (including against incumbents running for re-election!) had another candidate who reached the public funding requirement, that would add another $1.16 million every two years to the total.

In the higher-cost model, where each major party had three gubernatorial candidates who lost their primary but met the public funding requirement, that would add $3 million every two years to the total.


This means that the "higher-cost model" would add $4.16 million to the total, for a total cost of $12.64 million every two years, or $6.32 million per year.


At the high end, this is about one-tenth of one percent of the state's annual operating budget. Obviously, the overwhelming factor in the total amount of money is how many gubernatorial candidates meet the threshold - it is tough. You need 2,250 people who live in New Hampshire to give you $100 (and 250 people living outside of NH to give you $100) - but it completely changes the nature of fundraising. Instead of spending 60%-80% of your time in call time, you are trying to bundle checks for $5-$100 all day. It is all online, large low-dollar events, etc.

The cost of this plan should come from general fund expenditures - the estimated cost is between $4.2 million and $6.3 million per year.