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A Reform Agenda for New Hampshire

Real change comes from the grassroots, from our communities; and when the voices of those left out and left behind are finally heard. But, right now, our democracy is broken. It’s not just Washington, DC, it’s right here in New Hampshire too. The wealthy and well-connected have the power and everyday people — those without lobbyists or Governor’s cell-phone number — are left behind. These issues existed well before COVID-19, but this public health crisis is shining a new light on how critical it is that we change our system and elect leaders who are dedicated to these major reforms.

For almost a decade I worked as a legal aid attorney with New Hampshire Legal Assistance. There, I represented low-middle income Granite State families, seniors, veterans, and victims of domestic violence, often up against big bureaucracy and big corporations. I also advocated at the State House, where 96% of the registered lobbyists represent a corporate interest. I was in the distinct minority advocating on behalf of everyday people and saw the impact that has on the process.

Whether it was in the courtrooms or at the state house, I saw the same issues over and over again. The laws weren’t written with working people in mind — too many were written behind closed doors to benefit lobbyists and campaign contributors. People were being left out and left behind not because they weren’t working hard, but because the laws weren’t written to allow them to succeed. That’s why I ran for the state senate in the first place and that’s why I’m running for governor now. We need to break down the barriers for everyday people to succeed and much of that starts with the influence of lobbyists and corporate donors.

This reform agenda is broken into four sections that I believe are fundamental to fixing our democracy. Each section includes specific policy proposals that I would support as Governor and that I believe are fundamental to ensuring that Concord works for the people, not special interests.

Ethics and Transparency: Elected officials work for the people — not big corporations, not special interests, not in their own self-interest or for their political party. If we cannot trust that our political process is free and fair, then we will never make progress on any of the critical issues we all care about. Trust starts with eliminating areas for potential abuses of power and creating the systems necessary for investigating potential abuses.

Eliminating Areas for Abuse: It is critical that we put in place measures to increase transparency and shine a light on areas for potential abuse. By eliminating situations that are ripe for abuse we can prevent unethical actions from ever happening. Policy solutions:

  • Prohibit no-bid state contracts.
  • Release a public schedule.
  • Institute a multi-year cooling-off period before former legislators can become lobbyists.
  • Update legislative and executive ethics disclosure forms to include stocks and additional investments. The current form includes vague categories and falls significantly short of the federal disclosure standards.
  • Require the Governor to release their tax returns.
  • Prohibit Legislators and Executive Councilors from working at firms with lobbying practices.
  • Taxpayers deserve to know where their tax dollars are going; every dollar that gets spent should be accounted for with specifics, not simply broad categories.

Create Investigation Systems: If we put in place preventative measures we can hopefully prevent unethical actions from ever occurring; however, inevitably individuals will test the limits. When that occurs we must have investigative systems in place. Policy solutions:

  • Create an independent state ethics commission. New Hampshire is one of just 5 states without an independent state ethics commission. We currently have executive and legislative ethics commissions, but there should be an overarching ethics commission with real authority to investigate potential wrong-doing.
  • Fund the Department of Justice elections division so they can properly enforce and investigate lobbyist and campaign finance violations.

Campaign Finance Reform: In my three terms in the State Senate, I’ve sponsored over 30 pieces of election law legislation, many of which address New Hampshire’s campaign finance system. Elected officials work for the people, not donors and campaign contributors. New Hampshire is in significant need of campaign finance reform to put the power back in the hands of the people. We must limit the type of contributions allowed, increase disclosure requirements, and implement systematic changes.

Allowable Contributions: New Hampshire currently allows contributions from individuals, corporations, and Political Committees. Candidates should be running people-powered campaigns — not corporate-funded campaigns. Policy solutions:

  • Prohibit corporate and LLC contributions to political campaigns.
  • Close the LLC loophole.
  • Prohibit self-funding above the legal contribution limit.
  • Prohibit foreign-owned or foreign-controlled corporations from spending in New Hampshire elections

Increase Disclosure: In addition to prohibiting certain types of contributions, New Hampshire should increase disclosure of campaign contributions and election spending. Policy solutions:

  • Require political groups with secret donors to disclose their contributors.
  • Require campaigns and outside groups to disclose big donations of $1,000 or more within 48 hours.
  • Prohibit candidates from spending campaign cash for personal use.

Systematic Change: It’s important that we increase disclosure and run people-powered campaigns; however, there are also some broader changes to how we fund elections that I support. Policy solutions:

  • Support a citizen-funded small-dollar matching program similar to that passed by Congress in the For the People Act of 2019 to incentivize small-dollar, grassroots contributions.
  • Officially record New Hampshire’s support for overturning Citizens United.

Protecting & Expanding Voting Rights and Ending Gerrymandering: As a former legal aid attorney, I had the honor and privilege of trying to provide a voice for folks who often had never had anyone in their corner. Everyone counts in our democracy and everyone’s voice should be heard. Having your voice heard starts in the voting booth.

When you’re fighting for what’s right, you need to fight for it everywhere you can. I’ve fought for voting rights at the State House, I’ve fought in the Courts, and when that doesn’t work I’ve joined the thousands of Granite Staters rallying for their rights.

Protecting and Expanding Voting Rights: The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and we must do everything possible to encourage Granite Staters to participate in our process. Across the country, and right here in New Hampshire, voting rights are under attack as part of systematic effort to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters. Policy solutions:

  • Establish automatic voter registration so all eligible Granite Staters are automatically registered.
  • Establish online voter registration.
  • Repeal SB 3 and HB 1264, two recent efforts by Governor Sununu to suppress the vote.
  • Establish permanent no-excuse absentee voting so there is a permanent vote-at-home option beyond any COVID-19 related changes.
  • Require employers give employees time off to vote on election day.
  • Establish early voting options in New Hampshire.
  • Invest in election security to ensure we have safe, secure elections.

Ending Gerrymandering: Voters should pick their elected officials, elected officials shouldn’t pick their voters. I’ve been proud to support efforts to end gerrymandering and establish an independent, bipartisan commission. As Governor, ending gerrymandering would be a top priority. Policy solutions:

  • Establish an independent, bipartisan redistricting commission
  • Permanently ban partisan and racial gerrymandering in New Hampshire

Immediate COVID-19 Steps: Covid-19 has dramatically changed our day-to-day lives. We have the most important election of our life-time in November and we don’t know what the virus will look like or what we will be up against. Governor Sununu has also engaged in an unprecedented power-grab to unilaterally spend over $1 billion of federal funds with little oversight. With these current circumstances in mind, it’s critical we also include a section on immediate steps that should be taken.

Voting: This spring I released a comprehensive COVID-19 voting rights plan with Senator Melanie Levesque, the Chair of the Senate Election Law Committee, to highlight the importance of voting rights during this pandemic. In this rapidly evolving situation, we need to ensure that every voter is able to safely cast their ballot. There are three key elements of a COVID-19 voting right plan:

  • Vote-at-home: Anyone concerned about their safety should be allowed to vote from home. This includes the entire process from registering to vote, to requesting a ballot, to casting your ballot. The already existing online portals should be opened up to allow individuals to submit registration and absentee ballot requests online. Absentee ballot request forms should also be mailed to every registered voter so they know they can participate.
  • Processing: Our local election officials are the best in the country, but in this unprecedented situation they need help. We must adjust our processing laws so that our election officials can process the unprecedented number of absentee ballots.
  • Safe In-Person Voting: We know that for some individuals voting in-person is the only option. We must ensure that this process can be completed safely and in accordance with social distancing practices that will almost certainly still be in place come the fall.

Transparency with Stimulus Funds: New Hampshire has received an unprecedented amount of federal stimulus dollars, and there’s likely more coming. Meanwhile, Governor Sununu has taken unilateral spending authority over the funds, cutting the legislature and executive council completely out of the picture. I proposed a “Transparency Pledge” with four key principles that must be adhered to:

  • Public posting for every dollar: Granite Staters deserve to know exactly where all of their tax dollars are going. Broad multi-million dollar categories are insufficient. Every dollar should be accounted for and the public deserves to know exactly where it’s going.
  • Prohibit pay to play: There should be no involvement, either direct or indirect, of Governor Sununu in selecting or delivering any money to any private person, private entity, or corporation that either has been or who has committed to be, a campaign contributor benefitting Governor Sununu.
  • Prohibit conflicts of interest: There should be no involvement, either direct or indirect, of any person in GOFERR, including Governor Sununu, in selecting or delivering any money to any family member or to any entity or corporation that any family member has a private interest in. When Governor Sununu was given the authority to declare certain communities in New Hampshire “Opportunity Zones” for the purposes of receiving additional tax-breaks, he chose the region with his family’s ski resort.
  • Extend all existing ethics laws to newly formed committees: There should be compliance with all other executive branch ethics provisions, including RSA 21-G:21 et seq.

Written by

Dan served as a legal aid lawyer helping low-income NH families, seniors and veterans for almost a decade. Now serves as the majority leader in the NH Senate.

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