Feb 23, 2017 10:22 PM

State Senate passes bill mandating public advocacy groups report campaign spending


CONCORD – A bill that would force political advocacy groups to report their campaign-related spending passed a big hurdle on Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley and four fellow Republicans in the chamber joined all nine Democrats in attendance to approve SB33, which would for the first time require public advocacy groups to file with the state their expenditures made within 60 days of an election, if those groups spend more than $5,000 in a given year.

Such groups refrain from specifically supporting or opposing candidates, but they are allowed to criticize or praise a political candidate’s stance on specific issues. They are currently exempt from filling their expenditures, which candidates and political action committees are required to report.

The Senate Election Law and Internal Affairs Committee had recommended that the bill be killed. GOP Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford, a member of that committee, argued against the bill, saying “while we respect and recognize the fact that advocacy for or against can sometimes help, can sometimes hurt, we cannot trample over the constitution and over the current protections that are afforded to protect the peoples’ 1st Amendment rights whether we like them or not.”

But Bradley, who sponsored the bill, responded that “this is not trampling anybody’s constitutional rights. This is about ensuring that if there is political advertising from independent third parties, that we know who is spending the money.”

“We are not asking to revel their donors, that’s been very controversial. All we’re trying to find out is the transparency of what independent group is spending how much money,” added the GOP lawmaker from Wolfeboro.

By a 14-9 vote, the chamber voted down the committee’s recommendation to scrap the measure. Then, by another 14-9 vote, the Senate passed the bill.

The measure now heads to the House. If it does become law, public advocacy groups would be required to register with the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office.

Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire is one of the most proficient issue advocacy organizations in the Granite State. Greg Moore, the group’s director, told NH1 News that “the express goal of supporters who testified in committee was to limit free speech in politics, which is certainly a disturbing message for the New Hampshire Senate to send.”

“This legislation would attempt to regulate the political speech of everyone who spends money on informing the public about candidates and issue, from companies that invite candidates to meet with their employees, to chambers of commerce that hold candidate debates, to the state’s media, and treats them as if that are a political action committee,” he added.

Moore predicted that if the bill became law, it would face a legal challenge on 1st Amendment grounds.

In a separate vote Thursday by the state Senate, the chamber killed a bill by Democrat Dan Feltes of Concord to prevent the owners of multiple limited liability corporations from contributing the maximum donation to the same candidate from each of the LLC’s they own.

READ: State Senate takes crucial votes on key education issues

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