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March 28. 2013 6:17PM

Reform of political reporting, push poll laws put on hold by NH Senate

CONCORD -- Legislation tightening the public reporting requirements for “Super PACs” in New Hampshire and re-defining “push polling” were put on hold by the state Senate Thursday.

Senate Bill 120, the reporting bill, is likely on the shelf until next year, said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, while the push polling bill, Senate Bill 196, will probably be resurrected later in the current session with a two-thirds vote of the Senate, he said.

Both bills, Bradley said, addressing complex election law, require more work.

Current state law places no limit on the amount of money Super PACs can spend on campaign tools such as television ads and direct mail pieces.

Such Super PACs are often filed in New Hampshire by out-of-state groups who want to engage in a state or federal election campaigns.

The bill currently requires political committees not directly affiliated with a candidate to include in its registration paperwork itemized statements of its receipts and expenditures.

“There is broad bipartisan agreement that independent expenditures made by groups from Organizing for America to Crossroads GPS and everything in between, there should be disclosure of how much they’re spending,” Bradley said.

“Anything that deals with election laws is complicated, which is why there is bipartisan support for re-referring the bill,” he said.

The bill also updates the political contribution limits for New Hampshire state races from $5,000  to $7,000 for an individual if a candidate has agreed to state voluntary campaign spending limits, and from $1,000 to $3,500 for individuals contributing to candidates who have not agreed to the spending limits.

The spending limits were also updated from $625,000 to $1 million in a race for governor and increased, but smaller amounts, for other state races.

Under the landmark Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010, the state can no longer limit the amount of spending by a Super PAC making independent expenditures or the amount of money contributed by an individual to a Super PAC.

The Attorney General’s Office told the Secretary of State’s Office last August that due to the Citizens United case, it should no longer enforce the $5,000 expenditure limit “against political committees that only make independent expenditures.”

The push polling bill changes the definition  a push poll in New Hampshire to specify that it is an advertising tool distinct from research polling.

The bill grew out of several cases brought by outgoing Attorney General Michael Delaney in recent years against political campaigns and pollsters, most recently a civil action against former U.S. Rep. Charles Bass’s 2010 campaign committee. That case is still in the Merrimack County Superior Court.

The Bass committee is arguing in court it was not engaged in a push poll, but rather legitimate opinion research. And the committee points to an advisory opinion last year by the Federal Election Commission that the state’s push poll law does not apply to elections for federal office.

A push poll is defined under current law as “calling voters on behalf of, in support of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office” and presenting negative or positive information about that candidate.

Under the law, it is legal to make such calls if the caller tells the person contacted that the call is being made “on behalf of, in support of, or in opposition to, a particular candidate for public office, identify that candidate by name, and provide a telephone number from where the push-polling is conducted.” The telephone number must be provided, regardless of whether the recipient of the call ever asks for the number.

Under Senate Bill 196, the push poll caller must inform the person being called that the call is a “paid political advertisement.”
The organization making the call mush be identified and a “valid, current publicly-listed phone number” for the organization making the call must be provided.

There is no change to the requirement that the caller must say that the call is being made “on behalf of, in support of, or in opposition to, a particular candidate for public office” and “identify that candidate  by name.

National pollsters have complained that the state law makes it difficult, if not impossible, to complete  legitimate public opinion research.

“The pollsters are concerned that our push polling law is so restrictive that doing legitimate research has the potential of having them run aground of what potentially could be a push poll,” Bradley said.

Pollsters have said that if the current law is not changed and if it is upheld for federal elections, they will be reluctant to poll New Hampshire for the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, which, they said, could damage the primary’s status.



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