NEW HAMPSHIRE—As we slid into this highly anticipated weekend—the last one before the first-in-the-nation presidential primary—here in Manchester, a rather unexpected guest made a not-so-welcome comeback: foul weather.
Friday saw temperatures drop to nearly freezing, with mixed rain and snow in the afternoon. But for committed souls, the cold air and snowy streets weren’t impediments to marching for what they believe should be a top priority in American politics: ending the influence of big money.
About a dozen people gathered in the afternoon at Veteran’s Memorial Park, across the street from the hotel where all the major media sets up, wearing yellow vests and waterproof apparel, ready to participate in what they dubbed the “2020 Walk to the Democratic Debate.”
As they waited for more people to join, the walkers held up handmade signs with messages against big money in politics.
“People over corporations,” one read. Another: “Money out, voters in.” And a highlight: “Make elections fair again.”
Trudging through the slush and under cold rain, the demonstrators covered the three miles between their home base in the park and Saint Anselm College. Together, they hoped to deliver their message to candidates and their supporters at the last debate before voters head to the polls on Tuesday.
“One of the things that gets in the way of having the legislation to deal with climate change, wars, solving a lot of the problems in the world today, is the money that comes from large corporations and from wealthy individuals and a lot of other sources,” said Jim Howard, a resident of Concord who was participating in the march on his 72nd birthday. “Politicians and legislators are too far in the pockets of these corporations and individuals, and we need to get money out of politics so that these legislators represent us, the people.”
The march was organized by New Hampshire Rebellion, a cross-partisan movement of citizens focused on stopping the influence of big money interests in American politics, and part of the nonpartisan nonprofit Open Democracy, founded by Doris “Granny D” Haddock. The united front’s members across the country have collectively walked more than 42,000 miles to bring attention to campaign donation influence over officials, as well as gerrymandering of voting districts and sketchy lobbying practices.
“Our politicians, in order to get elected, need money,” said Brian Beihl, Deputy Director of Open Democracy. “The easiest way for them to get elected is to go to big donors and get campaign donations. There are favors that are being given to special interests, whether it’s a corporation, a union, or some billionaire out there.
“Instead of the politicians listening to the voters that elected them, they’re listening to their donors instead. And that’s why when we want to get clean air, or clean water, or climate fix—we can’t do it, because big money is blocking those reforms.”
This year’s walk follows on the tradition started by Haddock, who on New Year’s Day 1999, at age 89, started a 3,200-mile hike from Pasadena, California to Washington, DC, to draw attention to the cause of campaign finance reform. Her one-woman march ended 14 months later on the steps of Capitol Hill and was instrumental in building support for the bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which prohibited unregulated contributions to national political parties and put limitations on the use of corporate and union money to fund political ads.
“I thought it was a crazy idea when she came up with it,” said Larry Haddock, Granny D.’s grandson. “She really never got into politics until her late ’80s, [when] she got it in her head that what’s really wrong is corporations controlling Washington, the revolving door, and that the problems with the country can’t be solved without getting the money out.”
Whatever his early impressions were of his grandmother’s activism, on Friday, Haddock stood under the rain at New Hampshire’s Veterans Memorial Park, ready to deliver his message to the public and the democratic candidates at Saint Anselm.
“We’re trying to take back democracy from the corporations and raise awareness about campaign funding reform,” Haddock said. “Campaign finance is a nonpartisan issue. Everybody should care on both sides, left and right. Just because you’re conservative or liberal doesn’t mean that you want a corporation voting for you, telling the politicians on what laws to make.”
“As the candidates for president debate tonight, issues such as democracy and climate and other things are not being discussed thoroughly,” said Olivia Zink, executive director of Open Democracy and a resident of Franklin, New Hampshire. “If we want solutions, we need to talk about how to get big money out of our political process and empower everyday voters to be participants in our systems.”
The issue of campaign financing and fundraising has been somewhat present in the race so far, with a few notable moments, like an exchange at the sixth Democratic debate in December, when Sen. Elizabeth Warren criticized former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg for holding a closed-door fundraising “in a wine cave full of crystals.”
Buttigieg’s campaign faced public criticism after Forbes reported that it raised funds from 13 big-money donors, including two with connections to Donald Trump.
At a get-out-the-vote event in Derry this week, Sen. Warren again raised the issue of big money in politics.
“Money, money, money!” she chanted, “Money is calling the shots in Washington.”
As expected, the issue came up Friday on stage at Saint Anselm. As moderator George Stephanopoulos asked Warren if she is better prepared for the job than Michael Bloomberg, the obvious elephant in the room was that the former New York City Mayor may qualify for the Feb. 19 Democratic debate in Las Vegas. The only candidate who has personally given money to the Democratic National Committee—in a single day in November 2019, he donated $300,000 directly to the DNC and $800,000 to a DNC-adjacent fundraising PAC—Bloomberg appears to be benefiting from a change in qualification rules.
“I don’t think anyone ought to be able to buy their way into a nomination or to be president of the United States,” Warren said.
“I can’t stand big money in politics,” Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said. “One of my major focuses is going to be on passing that constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.”
“What we have got to do is have a nation in which we not only overturn Citizens United, but we move to public funding of elections,” Sanders said about the controversial 2010 US Supreme Court ruling that effectively allowed unions and corporations to spend money on electoral communications, and to directly advocate for the election or defeat of candidates, paving new ways for the wealthy to assert even more influence than they already had over elections and public officials.
NH Rebellion and Open Democracy also target Citizens United, along with Super PACS and pay-to-play lobbyists.
“The candidates that are doing small donations are doing it the right way in our opinion,” said Beihl of Open Democracy. “If you’ve got millions of people who are chipping in $15, those individuals aren’t going to have sway with the candidate.
“Republican voters, independents, Democrats all want this to happen. The voters support this reform. It’s a matter of getting past the politics to get it done. That’s what this walk is about: it’s to continue to pressure, to get people to actually get something done for a change.”
This article was produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Manchester Divided coverage of political activity around New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. Follow our coverage @BINJreports on Twitter and at binjonline.org/manchesterdivided, and if you want to see more citizens agenda-driven reporting you can contribute at givetobinj.org.