CONCORD — An attempt to increase reporting requirements for groups entering the political fray received a cool reception from a Senate committee Wednesday.
Sen. David Pierce, D-Hanover, wants additional groups to report political contributions and expenses, although they currently do not have to do so. During the last election cycle groups weighed in with mailers, advertisements and other activities to support or oppose political candidates, but did not have to report who contributed to those efforts and how the money was spent.
Pierce said his five criteria for having to register as a political committee is modeled after Maine legislation that was upheld by the Federal 1st Circuit Appeals Court after the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United decision that prohibits restrictions on political expenditures by corporations, associations or labor unions.
The decision means the state cannot limit independent expenditures by Super Political Action Committees or issue advocacy groups nor limit individual contributions to those groups and Super PACs.
During the last election cycle Super PACs such as President Obama’s Organizing for America or Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS dumped millions of dollars into federal and state elections, without having to meet reporting requirements of previous elections.
In New Hampshire, independent issue advocacy groups set up separate funds to promote or defeat candidates particularly targeting State Senate candidates.
Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, sponsored Senate Bill 120 to try to limit the outside expenditures of Super PACS and other groups and requiring the names of contributors be reported.
The bill was held by the Senate and will be taken up in one of the first three Senate sessions in 2014, although there has been little agreement on how to require greater transparency and reporting.
Wednesday, Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, chair of the Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee, said current law would do everything Pierce wants to accomplish in a more straightforward manner.
“The fundamental question has to be ’What is the purpose? Who is being affected? Who are you trying to regulate?’” Boutin said. “I am convinced without a shadow of a doubt that this is geared toward issue advocacy groups, which are not required to report.”
But Pierce said that is not what he is proposing. Instead he said he is trying to establish what constitutes a political committee, which is separate from reporting requirements.
Any candidate or political committee who spends more than $500 has to file contributions and expenditure reports with the Secretary of State under current law. Current law also requires any organization with two or more people that promotes the success or defeat of a candidate or candidates, or measure or measures, has to report.
Pierce wants to target groups whose main purpose is to promote or defeat candidates that spend more than $1,000 a year, and organizations whose main purpose is not targeting candidates, but spend $2,500 or more a year promoting or opposing candidates to report their contributors and who they support.
He also believes special funds set aside by issue advocacy groups that are used for political purposes should also be subject to reporting requirements.
“We should require as much disclosure as we can get out,” Pierce said. “The identification of who is funding (something) is of independent value to voters.”
Everyone understands spending for the success of a candidate, Boutin said, while they may not understand what Pierce is attempting to require organizations and groups to do.
“Everything you would purport to do is already being done better,” Boutin said. “There are some groups out there now that are not required to report and you want them to report.”
Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua, said they all know there are groups that are targeting candidates that are not required to report their contributors or expenditures, noting Pierce’s proposal would provide more transparency.
“There are lies and untruths put out about us by people we can’t identify,” Lasky said. “It’s not a partisan thing.”
The committee did not take any action on Pierce’s proposal and will meet again Nov. 6 to decide what action it wants to recommend.