U.S. Senate candidates talk money in politics

By Daymond Steer
CONWAY – Republican candidates for U.S. Senate shared their thoughts on the influence of money in politics with a reporter at the end of last week's debate in North Conway. Scott Brown has raised the most of any Republican running for the seat but apparently had the least to say about the topic.
Three of the top Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, Brown, Bob Smith and Jim Rubens, debated at Eggs and Issues in Conway on Aug. 15 at the North Conway Grand Hotel. The Republican Primary will be held Sept. 9. The winner will face U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic incumbent, in the Nov. 4 general election.
A reporter spoke to each of the Republican candidates after the debate and asked about campaign finance and the influence of money.
When asked who his major funders are for his campaign, Brown told The Conway Daily Sun to go look that information up.
"It's fully disclosed online," said Brown. "You'd have to do that calculation."
Brown said he's busy meeting voters and that the reporter should go to the "official disclosures" for campaign finance information.
The Center for Responsive Politics tracks campaign financing with its website Opensecrets.org. A reporter checked the site. It said as of June 30, Brown had raised about $2.6 million of which 69 percent or $1.8 million came from large contributions. Rubens had raised about $589,000 with $506,000 coming from his own pocket. Smith had raised $352,000 with just over half coming from small contributions.
Brown's top funders included leadership PACs and the securities and investment industry. The top industries funding Rubens were the retired concern and the real estate industry. Smith's top sponsors were concerns for the retired and conservatives. Shaheen's top funders are lawyers and the retired, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Meanwhile, Shaheen had about $10 million, and just over half came from large contributions. Shaheen raised nearly $3 million from out-of-state sources, according to Opensecrets.org. That's far more than the candidate with the next highest total. Brown, who had the second most, raised nearly $150,000 from out-of-state sources.
After the debate, Brown said he was the "most bipartisan Senator in the U.S. Senate." Brown said while he was in the U.S. Senate, he would meet with all types of people regardless of where they are from and who they are representing. That includes lobbyists.
"We'll meet with the lobbyists from the American Cancer Society and for the Autism groups," said Brown. "They have people who feel very strongly about their issues but we'll find out for ourselves what the real answers are."
Brown insisted that he is an independent-minded and bipartisan person.
Several people who attended the debate said they felt Brown did the best.
Smith and Rubens spoke at length about how their campaigns are being financed, and in general about money in politics.
Rubens said he's paying for a lot of his campaign himself.
"The establishment in Washington has directed the usual special interest money to Scott Brown but I'm lucky that, in this post Citizens United funding system, I have three Super PACs (Political Action Committees). I don't control them, but they have gotten behind me in my campaign and we've got a fair money war now in this primary," said Rubens, adding special interest money is also behind Shaheen.
One of the Super Pacs endorsing Rubens is MayDay.US.
MayDay.US is dedicated to reducing "the influence of money on politics." It was founded by Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig, who also founded the N.H. Rebellion walks which have the same aim. Supporters of the N.H. Rebellion walked through Conway over the winter on their way to southern New Hampshire.
Rubens said he marched with the New Hampshire Rebellion.
Mayday.us asks people to "embrace the irony" in their message.
When asked about the race, Lessig said the important question is if a candidate has "committed to fundamental reform."
"Shaheen and Rubens have," said Lessig. "Brown and Smith have not. That's why we've endorsed Rubens in the GOP primary."
When asked about how Shaheen seemed to be raking in the cash, Lessig said his group is looking for "reform" and not "unilateral disarmament."
Rubens stressed that he is not getting money from the Super PACs and he is not coordinating with them in any way. The law prohibits Super PACs from coordinating with candidates but they can endorse or criticize a candidate.
"They are not going to give me one red cent," said Rubens of Super PACs. "I do not control them."
Rubens said not being on lobbyists' dole frees him up to say important things.
"I'm free as a Republican to say and I am the only Republican running for the U.S. Senate to say there is a climate change problem caused by humans," said Rubens. "I'm free to say the political money system in Washington is corrupted the political process in Washington to the bone."
According to Rubens, Washington corruption allowed the big banks to get even bigger. He said the Dodd-Frank financial reform hurt small business and job growth in New Hampshire.
Rubens pushed for a voluntary system for public financing of elections because he says that would allow truth-speaking New Hampshire people to effectively run for office and even win re-election.
Smith said he's getting small donations from a number of people. For instance, he does "grassroots politics" at events like country music concerts at fairgrounds.
"If you don't like big money in politics and you see their (competitors) ads, think of me," said Smith.
Smith admits he does have "some friends" who are large donors but he said big corporate interests aren't backing him en masse. Smith served in the U.S. Senate from 1990 to 2003.
Smith said both Brown and Rubens have more money than he does. Smith says he is still competitive.
Smith said when he was in office, big campaign funders would act like he owed them something for their donation.
"Maybe one of the reasons they (special interests) don't support me now is they didn't get what they wanted," said Smith. "If somebody came to me with a check, I'd say 'I'm assuming, you gave me that because you agree with my votes. If you want something for it, take it and leave.'"
Smith said the average contribution he gets is in the neighborhood of $45.
"I'm proud of that because the more participation you get the less effective big money is," said Smith. "I'd rather have 100 people give me $1 than one person give me $100."
Smith disagrees with public financing of elections. Smith said the answer is more voluntary involvement and not taxpayer money.
"I don't want to fund Nancy Pelosi's or Harry Reid's race," said Smith. "I don't think they want to fund mine."
Smith said he never became a lobbyist after he left office. Smith said people have the right to lobby their government. Smith said during his time in office he would be more responsive to a heartfelt request from a constituent than a form letter from some organization.
Smith said it's sad that politics have become all about money. Smith said political reporters often dwell on asking candidates how they can win without money.
"I've won elections where I've spent more than my opponent and I've lost elections where I spent more than my opponent," said Smith. "I've been outspent and won and lost, and I've spent more and won and lost. I think it's about who you are and your message."
Smith said it's easy for a candidate to make misleading TV ads.
"Our country is in trouble," said Smith. "Maybe it's in trouble because people are pretending to be who they are not and when they get elected people get surprised when they don't do what they said they are going to do."
Smith wants total campaign funding disclosure so that people can see where the candidates get their money. Smith also explained the general rules in regards to how a candidate can raise money.
Individuals can donate $2,600 per primary and general election, Smith explained. Political Action Committees can give $5,000 per election and the donors have to be identified. Super PACs can raise millions for a candidate and the donors don't have to be named. Super PACs can't collude with a candidate, Smith said.