Introduction of HB1186
before the Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee on Wednesday Jan 22 at 10am in LOB Room 302
Thank you Chairman Butler, Vice Chairman Williams and fellow Representatives for the opportunity to speak before you today. I thank you in advance for your kind attention.
For the record, I am Rep. Ken Wells of Andover, and I am here to introduce House Bill 1186 - to establish a committee to study the filing of certain organizational income reports with the Secretary of State.
There has been much talk in recent years of “dark money” in the halls of government, in campaign financing and other areas in which the public would like to place their trust. This bill proposes a committee to study the current system for reporting income and related compensation paid to for-profit and to non-profit lobbyist organizations.
The purpose of the proposed committee will be to review documents filed with the Secretary of State under RSA 15:6 to determine whether those documents are indeed accurate and complete, and to ensure that the information provided is consistent with the organization’s stated mission and actions, and consistent with other filings with the department of state/corporate division, and filings with the US Internal Revenue Service.
I have encountered some evidence of such irregularities in my legislative work, and think it extremely likely that others exist. However, I think it inappropriate and ineffective to make allegations today against singular organizations before this committee.
HB1186 calls for a bipartisan committee charged with illuminating instances and mechanisms by which our desire for disclosure and transparency are being foiled, and charged with making recommendations for remedies, would be a tremendous positive step toward strengthening NH’s democracy.
Based on their findings, the proposed committee will make reports and recommendations to SOS and AG. The aim is to improve disclosure, transparency and accountability in the filing of organization income.
So, why is this necessary? Why does NH even have these rules in RSA15:6? The RSA requires lobbyists to divulge who is compensating them for their activities on their behalf, and for spending their valuable time in our committees. (I mean, these meetings are scintillating, and who wouldn’t want to spend all their time here? But seriously, …)
Finally, the overarching aim of this bill is that the legislature needs to evaluate whether the protective measures of the RSA actually work to provide the transparency NH citizens should expect, and do deserve from their government. Accountability is the spine that supports disclosure and transparency.
Thank you Mr Chairman. I’d be happy to answer questions to the best of my ability.
[... answers to anticipated questions, providing more details...]
When I was a kid, I liked to go fishing with my grandfather in his little boat. He taught me that if you want to go fishing, you make as little noise as possible beforehand.
So I don’t really think it is proper at this moment for me to begin the task (or to describe in detail the methods) that the proposed committee is supposed to undertake. But watchdog organizations give NH a D rating for disclosure and transparency, mostly due, I think, to the defects in accountability.
According to an advocacy organization that I hope will be speaking to you shortly, a small number of lobbyists make the lion’s share of campaign contributions to candidates in NH, shielding both their employer and the candidate from the appearance of a potentially embarrassing, unethical or even illegal conflicts of interest.
[...and lot more details…] I learned of an ACLU suit brought against a for-profit trade association. This out-of-state trade association used NH’s permissive registration system to disguise itself as a non-profit consumer advocacy group. This was a sham. The organization’s claim to represent a broad public membership was exposed, once they revealed that they in fact had only a dozen members, companies who paid tens of thousands each in annual membership dues. In spite of this revelation, the organization persists in presenting testimony as a consumer advocacy group. NH needs more accountability.
Ken Wells represents Andover, Danbury and Salisbury in the New Hampshire House of Representatives during the 2018-2020 session.