HB 1459 Fails in the House

With a vote of 135 for and 184 against, the New Hampshire House of Representatives killed House Bill 1459 late yesterday afternoon.  The bill contained a controversial amendment to restrict political advertising in a manner that would impair and inhibit public debate and discourse on important issues and elections in New Hampshire and impose harmful and discriminatory burdens on New Hampshire radio and television stations.

From the Nashua Telegraph

CONCORD – A legislative move to force corporations to disclose spending for or against candidates and issues has collapsed before the House of Representatives.

The House on Wednesday killed the late-breaking compromise, 184-135, as opponents seized on the intramural hostility toward actions of the Senate on the final scheduled day of the 2010 session.

Gov. John Lynch and the Executive Council have called the Legislature back into a special session next Wednesday in hopes of reaching consensus on legislation to erase most if not all of a $300 million budget deficit.

Senate Majority Leader Maggie Hassan, D-Exeter, said the U.S. Supreme Court decision in late January striking down bans on corporate spending cried out for a response in New Hampshire election law.

“Why would we give large multinational corporations, foreign corporations more rights than we give individuals under current state law?” Hassan asked.

She warned the bill’s defeat would send a dangerous signal to company executives that there are no rules in the state that’s home to the first-in-the-nation primary.

“You can come into New Hampshire. You can purchase an election. You can drown out the voices of all others in a campaign,” Hassan charged. “You can hide your identity from public scrutiny.”

But Rep. Jim Splaine, D-Portsmouth, said the bill got scant public comment, was rewritten several times and was the first step of what could be many inappropriate restrictions to free speech.

“This bill is a story of a wrong process with a wrong solution and a wrong cause,” Splaine said. “This legislation deserves to be stopped right here.”

Kevin Smith, executive director of the socially conservative New Hampshire Cornerstone Action, had threatened to sue the state had the Legislature passed this bill, and Lynch signed it.

“We are very happy with what the House did and commend Rep. Splaine for his courage in leading the effort,” Smith said.

The bill would have required companies that spend at least $10,000 on “messages, parties or candidates” to disclose their actions and gain the support of the board of directors before doing so within three days of spending money on political advertising.

It gave candidates or issue organizers under attack a right of action in court if the attacking company or individual is not complying with the disclosure mandate.

“All this does is make sure there is some kind of accountability, some kind of transparency with regards to corporate donations,” said Sen. Beth Reynolds, D-Plymouth.

The 10 Republicans in the Senate failed as a group to block the bill (HB 1459) when all 14 Senate Democrats endorsed it.

Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, chastised the Senate majority for not naming one GOP senator to the negotiating committee on the bill.

Bradley claimed this was the reaction of Democratic leaders in power facing a tough re-election and not the reaction when left-wing groups spent large sums of money to oppose Republicans in previous elections.

“Where were you in 2006 when groups like moveon.org were advertising against people like me?” asked Bradley, who lost his seat in Congress to Rochester Democrat Carol Shea-Porter.

“Now that the pendulum shifts a little bit, we feel we have an emergency,” Bradley said.

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