Spotlight on New Hampshire

Hamsini Sridharan and Laura Curlin | September 18, 2018

All around the country, the public is becoming increasingly disenchanted with special interests dominating our democracy. Reform is brewing in New Hampshire, where, in 2019, legislators will introduce a “Voter Dollars” bill to create a voluntary public funding system for state elections. The bill, drafted with bipartisan support, would give each registered voter four $25 certificates that they can contribute to participating candidates of their choice—similar to a program implemented in Seattle in 2017 and others being considered around the country, including in Albuquerque. Participating candidates would agree to only accept small donations and refuse money from lobbyists, businesses, and labor unions. This would give voters greater voice in government and provide candidates with an alternate path to power, allowing them to succeed without relying on wealthy private networks, corporate support, or out-of-state influence.

Why is a system like this needed in New Hampshire? MapLight dove into the state’s campaign finance landscape to answer this question. We examined campaign contributions and independent expenditures in the 2016 state elections and found that outside spending, corporate interests, and out-of-state influence play a major role in shaping New Hampshire elections.

  • Nearly $10 million poured directly into statewide candidate campaigns in the 2016 election. Another $12 million went into independent expenditures supporting or opposing candidates (most of it in the race for governor). The amount of contributions in New Hampshire elections has increased steadily since 2008.

  • In the 2016 gubernatorial race, outside spending far outstripped contributions to candidates. Over $11.5 million was spent on independent expenditures affecting this race. Among the major spenders: Live Free PAC (the Republican Governors Association) spent over $5 million likely opposing Democrat Colin Van Ostern. Put New Hampshire First spent over $4 million opposing Republican Governor Chris Sununu. Save the Children Action Network put in over $1 million, likely supporting Van Ostern. And United We Can (the outside spending arm of SEIU) put in over $600,000, likely supporting Van Ostern. In total, about $5 million worth of outside spending went towards supporting Sununu or opposing Van Ostern, and a little over $6 million went to supporting Van Ostern or opposing Sununu.

  • Van Ostern raised $1.6 million in campaign contributions from individuals and other entities, and Sununu raised $1.1 million. Sununu, who comes from a major political family in New Hampshire, won despite being outraised.

  • From 2006-2016, two-thirds of Executive Council candidates that raised the most money in their races won a seat. Five of the last six governors have outraised their opponents. Only one gubernatorial candidate who outraised the competition has lost in the last 12 years (Van Ostern). Candidates who are not already well-connected political insiders would struggle to compete in this playing field.

  • $2.9 million—29% of campaign contributions to state executive and legislative races in 2016—came from non-individual entities in 2016. This includes $391,000 from the finance, insurance, and real estate sector, $378,000 from labor groups, $274,000 from “General Business” organizations, $209,000 from the health sector, $181,000 from lawyers and lobbyists, and $162,000 from the transportation sector.

  • Money from out-of-state donors makes up a large portion of all election funds in New Hampshire. Since 2006, out-of-state money has made up anywhere from 19% to 25% of all money raised by candidates for governor, Executive Council, the State Senate, and the State House. In 2016, on average, 22% of gubernatorial candidates’ funding came from out-of-state—and almost half (48%) of Governor Sununu’s campaign war chest came from outside New Hampshire. Sununu was by far the largest recipient of out-of-state money.

  • Corporate interests and wealthy individuals from out of state are spending thousands of dollars to influence New Hampshire elections. Pfizer and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PHRMA) were both in the top five out-of-state donors for 2016 (1st and 3rd, respectively). Comcast and AT&T both make the top 20, as does Reynolds Tobacco. In the 2016 governors’ race, the top 20 out-of-state donors included John Edelblut, Peter Paul, and Ben & Jeanie Sanders. Private prison company GEO Group also made the list.