Andrew H Emerson is an Associate in Holland & Knight's Washington D.C. office
The New Hampshire Department of Justice has recently issued critical guidance for any campaign, corporation or individual that engages in political activity in the state.
As in many states, New Hampshire's Campaign Finance System bifurcates responsibility between the state's Secretary of State, who is responsible for implementing the state's disclosure system, and the state's Department of Justice, which enforces the underlying campaign finance statutes.
As a result, although the New Hampshire Secretary of State's office provides limited guidance on compliance with the law and maintains the state's online disclosure system, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is the primary authority when it comes to the New Hampshire's committee registration requirements, contribution limits and voluntary expenditure caps. In order to provide pre-enforcement guidance on these issues, the state DOJ's Election Law Unit recently sent a Guidance Letter to Secretary of State Bill Gardner; the letter includes a copy of the form that the Election Law Unit will use when conducting an initial examination of all campaign finance reports submitted in the state.
In addition to describing how the Election Law Unit will examine disclosure reports, the Guidance Letter outlines the basic requirements of New Hampshire Campaign Finance Law.
New Hampshire limits contributions by state political committees, corporations and individuals to state candidates. Candidates who have agreed to participate in state spending limits may receive up to $5,000 per election. If the candidate does not agree, then contributions are limited to $1,000 per candidate per election. However, based on interpretation provided by the DOJ, and re-iterated in this latest Guidance Letter, candidates may also accept up to $5,000 during the pre-filing period, before: 1) the candidate officially enters the race; or 2) the candidate files an affidavit indicating that they do or do not agree to expenditure limits.
Registration and Reporting Requirements
There are no individual or corporate registration requirements in New Hampshire, but the state requires political committees to register within 48 hours of formation. Subsequently, such committees are required to submit regular itemized reports for all contributions and receipts of over $25. This low limit effectively prevents Federal Political Committees from giving in state elections in New Hampshire unless the committee retains substantially more detailed records than are required under federal law.