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NH House panel reviews push poll, voter registration, campaign finance bills

Senior Political Reporter

September 11. 2013 3:50PM

CONCORD -- With campaigns for the 2014 election cycle beginning to crop up, a House subcommittee Wednesday approved a re-write of the state's push poll law, but a veteran lawmaker said the bill will not be easy to enforce, if at all.

"I certainly agree with the intent," said Rep. Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, a member of a House Election Law Committee subcommittee working on Senate Bill 196. "But I'm not sure how easily this is going to be enforced."

He said he hopes to hear from the Attorney General's Office on the matter in future panel meetings.

The bill, which was retained in committee in the spring, will now go to the full committee for consideration and then possibly on to the full House in January.

Also Wednesday, a subcommittee recommended a bill that tweaks the state's voter registration form ought to pass with a modest amendment.

House Bill 466 would keep in place a requirement that those registering to vote fill out a form that declares New Hampshire as their domicile and acknowledges that they are subject to state laws, including the requirement that a driver register a motor vehicle and apply for a New Hampshire driver's license within 60 days of becoming a resident.

The subcommittee recommended requiring those signing the form to "swear" the information is true and that the form was executed for proving identity, citizenship, age or domicile."

The subcommittee recommended a similar voter registration bill, House Bill 600, move to interim study.

It also recommended interim study for legislation (House Bill 250) that would establish partial public financing of campaigns in the Granite State through a state-funded "Clean Elections" program.

The bill calls for providing qualifying candidates for governor $1.75 million for a primary election and $2.25 million for a general election, and lesser amounts for other state offices. It would not apply to races or candidates for federal offices.

Revenue for the fund was a sticking point for the subcommittee, but Rep. Robert Perry, R-Strafford, cited an "incredible imbalance of power" between the amount of money poured into elections by the wealthy as opposed to ordinary Granite Staters and Americans.

He also called for passage of House Bill 392, which tightens the registration and reporting requirements of issue advocacy special interest political committees and Super PACs.

"We know there is a double standard between special-interest organizations and New Hampshire state candidates," said Perry, "because state candidates are required to report on a timely basis, but special-interest organizations are not required to register or report at all."

The subcommittee decided to continue work on House Bill 392 before issuing a recommendation.

On the push poll bill, the subcommittee kept in place a provision that would require an entity about to conduct a telephone push poll to first inform the voter being called that the call is a "paid political advertisement," identify the organization making and paying for the call and provide a telephone number of the organization making the call.

Under the bill, as under existing law, the caller must also say that the call is being made "on behalf of, in support of, or in opposition to a particular candidate or candidates for public office and identify the candidate or candidates by name."

The subcommittee bill's new definition of a push poll calls it a "series of like telephone calls that consists of more than 2,000 connected calls" for presidential, gubernatorial and U.S. Senate and House races, more than 500 calls for other state, city, town, or school district races, and more than 200 calls for state representative elections.

To be a push poll, the call must last "less than two minutes." Such calls are distinguished in the bill from "bona fide survey and opinion research" calls, which usually last much longer than two minutes and look at how "randomly-selected individuals react to positive or negative information' about a candidate" or official.

The bill attempts to maintain state control over push polling in federal election as well as state elections. It ignores a Superior Court judge ruling earlier this year that the state law does not apply to federal elections, which are regulated by the Federal Election Campaign Act. FECA requires no such disclosure and disclaimer for polling.

The Attorney General's Office has appealed the ruling on federal elections to the state Supreme Court. The case involves civil action brought by the state against former U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass's 2010 campaign committee.

The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the case, which is expected to be heard early next year, according to the Attorney General's office.

Attorney General Joseph Foster said the appeal was filed to "protect New Hampshire's right to govern its own elections."


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