Introduction of HB1415-2020-0052h to Election Law Cmte
10:30 am Wednesday Jan 14, 2020 in LOB 308
Thank you Chairman Cote, ViceChair Moynihan 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 1415. As introduced, this bill was to establish a committee to study the Montana Disclose Act of 2015, which prohibits anonymous out-of-state expenditures, including, for example “in kind” attack ad mailings, during the period 90 days preceding elections in Montana. The aim of the committee would have been to see if this Montana provision could be incorporated into NH election law.
The amendment before you, 0052h changes both the title and the body of the bill, and calls for the enactment of such a protection for NH elections, not for the establishment of a study committee.
NH elections should be decided by NH voters, after they have had an appropriate opportunity to discuss, fact-check and deliberate upon the information available to them before they go to the polls. All of us who have mailboxes or a phone line know that the pace of political messaging by junk mail, robocalling and other advertising media, accelerates as election day nears. Not infrequently, late messaging turns negative and destructive to the deliberative democratic process. Unfortunately, some of those last-minute messages may contain sensational and misleading misinformation, are funded by “dark money” originating outside of NH and seeking to manipulate the outcome of our elections by misleading NH voters. If the origin of the misinformation is an anonymous out-of-state entity, there is currently insufficient accountability or recourse to seek civil damages. I think we all agree that this is bad, regardless of our political affiliation.
The amendment before you seeks to amend RSA 664:6 by adding a prohibition on all such anonymous independent expenditures, and provides civil penalties for each violation. The mechanism for doing this demands explicitly that political organizations operating from outside NH be properly registered with the NH Secretary of State, and therefore be not anonymous, if they engage in political advertising in the last 90 days before NH elections. Secondly, it prescribes a civil penalty of $5000 per occurrence, and awards double to triple damages to plaintiffs. (I believe these penalties are exactly the same penalties already existing in section 14a, as applied only to pre-recorded messaging.)
I’m proud to live in a state where there is such a high level of voter involvement and turnout, where there is reasoned political discourse about important topics perennially, and where so many voters profess their independence from either party’s ideologies and prefer to deliberate thoughtfully upon verifiable information, and carefully consider their own values, before heading to the polls.
Let’s help keep our local NH state politics local!
By the way, the Montana Law was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court, and the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal.
Notes for floor speech:
Anonymity creates a shield for wrongdoing. Wrongdoing (like lying and cheating) becomes profitable when there’s no consequence, because there’s no disincentive. With this in mind, I doubt there could be any opposition to a bill that creates a penalty for misleading NH voters.
Ken Wells represents Andover, Danbury and Salisbury in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.