Panel disagrees on expanding political advocacy definition
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The New Hampshire House will decide whether to broaden the state’s definition of a political advocacy organization without the guidance of its election law committee, which was unable to agree Thursday on whether to require additional groups to register with the state.
The Senate passed a bill in February that would require organizations to register with the secretary of state’s office and file financial reports if they spend $5,000 or more per year on communication that refers to a candidate in any way within 60 days of an election. Current law requires registration only when such communication is likely to be interpreted as advocating for or against a candidate or measure.
The House delayed its vote on the bill and instead sent it back to its election law committee for further review. Taking up the bill Thursday, members split 10-10, with nine Democrats and one Republican supporting the bill, and 10 Republicans opposing it. That means it will go to the full House in the next session without a recommendation.
The bill had passed the Senate with bipartisan support, and supporters on the House committee argued that it would address hate mail from out-of-state groups that hurts Republicans and Democrats alike.
“That’s not the way New Hampshire operates. We’re cleaner than that, we’re better than that,” said Rep. Andrew White, D-Lebanon. “If you’re going to spend this much money ... you gotta tell us who you are. Are we really opposed to that? It keeps New Hampshire politics where New Hampshire politics belongs: in New Hampshire.”
Rep. Travis Bennett, D-Plymouth, said it was “absurdly hypocritical” for lawmakers to voice concern about fraudulent votes cast by out-of-state residents while being “perfectly fine” with not regulating outside groups.
But opponents said the bill is too broad, arguing it could apply to newspapers, civic groups that publish candidate surveys or scorecards or even newsletters published by the New Hampshire Municipal Association.
“The net is way, way too wide,” said Rep. Kathleen Souza, R-Manchester. Rep. Norman Silber, R-Gilford, agreed, calling the bill a “sort of a chilling of First Amendment rights.”
With little or no debate, the committee recommended the full House kill five other bills related to voter eligibility, registration and running for office.