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July 23, 2024 10:18 am

Local News

Bill to Boost Political Finance Transparency Heads to Sununu’s Desk

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by Ethan DeWitt, New Hampshire Bulletin

A bill to increase oversight of political advocacy organizations in New Hampshire is headed to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk.

House Bill 195 would expand which organizations would count as political advocacy organizations, a designation that requires them to register with the Secretary of State’s Office and report receipts and expenditures. 

Currently, the label applies only to organizations that spend $5,000 toward advocacy for or against a candidate or party in an election cycle. The bill would lower that threshold to organizations that spend $2,500 or more. 

The bill passed the Senate unanimously last week; it passed the House in March, also by a unanimous vote.

Voting rights advocates say the bill will provide necessary accountability for organizations that make smaller donations to political candidates.

When organizations register as political advocacy organizations, they must designate a treasurer and submit itemized expenditure statements to the Secretary of State’s Office. They must update those statements each time they make an additional $1,000 in expenditures. They must also be clear whether the expenditures are made in support or opposition of a candidate. 

Organizations that are 501(c)(4) nonprofits are not subject to those reporting requirements, however.

By lowering the reporting threshold, voters will have more information over which nonprofits or organizations are potentially influencing elections, supporters say. And they said dropping the entry level to $2,500 accounts for organizations that spend in New Hampshire House races.

“A healthy democracy cannot coexist in the presence of untraceable sources of money influencing our vote,” said Bob Perry, an election reform advocate and former state representative speaking at a hearing.

As originally introduced, HB 195 sought to subject more organizations to disclosure requirements. 

The original bill also required campaign finance disclosures for organizations that provide “communications that refer to a clearly identified candidate or candidates or the success or defeat of a measure or measures.” That provision was taken out after some organizations, including the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a right-leaning think tank, raised concerns that the move could require them to submit disclosures for providing information about candidates ahead of elections. 

This story was written by Ethan DeWitt, a reporter at the New Hampshire Bulletin, where this story first appeared.

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