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N.H. bill proposes more campaign spending disclosure

CONCORD, N.H. — Senate Republican leader Jeb Bradley is proposing changes to New Hampshire’s election laws so voters will know who is paying for negative television campaign ads and material mailed to their homes.

Bradley told the Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee Wednesday that the most important change to election laws his bill would make would be to require independent groups to file expenditure reports with the state.

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‘‘The average voter wants to know who they are and how much they are spending,’’ said Bradley, a Wolfeboro resident.

Bradley said outside groups spent millions of dollars in the November election and did not report it because of the vagueness of New Hampshire’s campaign finance law.

The bill would split the definition of a political committee into two parts. The first part would cover purely political groups that spent $2,500 or more in a calendar year to promote the success or defeat of candidates or measures. These committees are often formed by candidates.

The second part would cover groups that are not associated with a candidate and spending on such things as ads and mailers that mention a candidate by name.

These independent groups would have to file with the state if they spent $5,000 or more in a calendar year and the ad is broadcast or the mailer distributed within 60 days of a general election or 30 days before a primary election.

Bradley said he set the $5,000 threshold for the independent groups to protect the free speech rights of those spending a small amount. The bill would not cover bloggers, he said.

‘‘They are not intended to be caught in the net,’’ he said.

Corey Lewandowski of Americans for Prosperity objected that the bill was too broad and fatally flawed because it did not limit the reporting requirement to groups whose major purpose is to defeat or elect candidates or measures.

He argued that including for-profit and nonprofit corporations in the definition covering independent groups could apply to the Girl Scouts of New Hampshire if it advertised in support of an issue. Lewandowski said that might mean the Girl Scouts would have to list every­one who contributed $25 or bought five boxes of cookies.

Olivia Zink of the Coalition for Open Democracy disputed Lewandowski’s characterization of the bill. She said the Girl Scouts and similar groups would risk their nonprofit tax status if they advocated for candidates or measures.

Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan testified in favor of another section that raised the voluntary campaign expenditure limits. He said the current limits are so low now that no one abides by them.

Committee chairman David Boutin, Republican of Hooksett, said the committee would hold a work session on the bill Feb. 21.

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