First in Elections, First in Reforms: Can New Hampshire be First in the Nation to Implement Changes to Campaign Finance?
As Americans prepare for the 2020 presidential election, one thing is for certain—the candidates will make their way into your home. While they might not physically step foot into your living room, they will appear on your television, on your laptop, and on your phone. Why? Because in the United States, campaigns are won by candidates communicating with you, the voters. It is not feasible to physically shake hands with the entire population of the country. Instead, individuals running for office have to introduce themselves to voters some other way. Television advertisements, sponsored posts on social media, and robocalls are all methods politicians use to persuade the public that they are deserving of your vote in the upcoming election.
This outreach costs money. In the weeks, months, and even years before an election, candidates running for office must find a way to fund their campaigns. The race to raise money is a full-contact sport, as candidates bombard potential contributors with calls, mailings, and emails. Candidates attend house parties, high-priced dinners, and donor meetings in hopes of winning the fundraising race, separate, of course, from the actual political race to win the election. Candidates are not the only ones raising and spending money. Other groups—such as political parties, Political Action Committees, and unions—support favorable candidates by advertising and providing other outreach to show their support. And with the impact of the Citizens United decision, corporations now have a bigger seat at the table than before. The race to raise, buy, and spend on a political campaign has become just as arduous and contentious as the race for an elected position.
Americans are frustrated by this constant battle. Too often, they don’t know who is funding an election or who is paying for an advertisement. Candidates are also vocal about their desire to change the system. Many have suggested modifications and some have even taken personal pledges to limit the influence of money in politics. But without true reform, the wealthier candidates—those who have “succeeded” at the fundraising race—will have the money needed to work their way into your living room, while the candidates with less campaign funds may remain unknown and unelected. How can we achieve a better balance of spending less and disclosing more, while still ensuring candidates have the ability to market themselves to the public? Part I of this Note looks at the current campaign finance system in the United States and the impact of Citizens United. Part II assesses what has been done or considered in other countries and across the United States to lessen the influence of money in politics. Part III applies these ideas on a smaller scale to New Hampshire—the home of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary and the state with the largest legislative body aside from the U.S. Congress—to suggest ways the system can be improved and transformed. Unlike a seat for elected office, the race to reform campaign finance is a bipartisan contest, and its victory can be celebrated by all Americans, regardless of political party.