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Money as political speech is on a lot of NH minds as Town Meetings approach

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 30. 2014 9:09PM

Citizens exercising direct democracy at annual Town Meeting are trying to exorcise Citizens United.

As Town Meeting season kicks off in many communities Saturday, voters will deliberate union contracts, building projects, road upgrades, land conservation, and various citizens petitions, like the resolution seeking to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and "get big money out of politics."

The petitions targeting the court decision share similar wording of "Move to Amend," a coalition calling for a constitutional amendment to clarify that "money is not a form of protected free speech under the First Amendment and can be regulated in political campaigns."

The petition articles are on the warrant in numerous towns this season, including Amherst, Barrington, Deerfield, Hampton, Kingston, Londonderry, Milford, Northwood, Salem, and Windham.

The wording of the petitions call for "Congress to move forward with a constitutional amendment to safeguard fair elections through the authority to regulate political spending, and clarify that the constitutional rights were established for people, not corporations. ..."

In some town warrants, as in Hampton and Salem, the Board of Selectmen have not recommended passage for these petitions.

The U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010 gave corporations and unions the OK to spend unlimited money on advertising, ruling political spending as protected First Amendment speech. As the Center for Public Integrity put it, the high court gave the green light "for corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate." Petition articles can come in many forms. In Rye, for example, there are a couple of citizen petitions concerning acceptable activities on town beaches. One would declare all town beaches smoke-free zones, while another would ban commercial activity on town beaches from Memorial Day to Labor Day between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, and anytime on weekends and holidays.

The beach buzz may ensure a well-attended deliberative session at the Rye Junior High School on Saturday. One article on the warrant would amend the town's beach ordinance to implement permits to "allow management of the time, location, impact and intensity of commercial beach activities to facilitate the safe, enjoyable, and accessible use of public beach resources by all beach users." Failure to obtain a permit for a lesson, event or activity - of commercial nature - is subject to a $50 fine, according to the warrant article.

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