On the eve of a crucial Portsmouth election, activist/ice cream mogul Ben Cohen interrupted his crusade against money in national politics today to weigh in on the corrosive influence of big bucks in local politics. Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s, is “Head Stamper” of the Stamp Stampede, a national push to get money out of national politics by overturning the US Supreme Court decision saying corporations are people.
During a downtown Portsmouth stop at Book & Bar today, Portsmouth Now! cornered Cohen about its pet peeve. This blogger told Cohen that Portsmouth once had two competing daily newspapers (and competing City Hall reporters), but with only one daily paper left, the Portsmouth Herald covers some issues like a blanket (like the police financial scandal), but won’t cover others (like this summer’s City Planning Department email to a developer’s lawyer of an HDC approval decision before the HDC heard from the public or voted on it). Also in this climate, this blogger told Cohen that eight of 16 City Council candidates are being promoted by a slick, expensive-looking PR campaign, but Portsmouth voters have no idea what interests are behind it because the paper hasn’t reported on it. (Luckily, an investigative news website, indepthnh.org is attacking the gap left by faltering dailies). Asked for a comment about the combination of a weak local daily paper and money’s influence on local politics, Cohen got a faraway look. Pensively eyeing the crowd milling between bookshelves, stamps and ice cream samples, he told Portsmouth Now!: “Our democracy is being destroyed by two things– money in politics and the fact that the media is no longer performing its watchdog role and exposing corruption– so the influence of money in politics is going on mostly in the dark.”
The Stamp Stampede and Leftist Marching Band also showed up for yesterday’s rousing rally on Financial Transparency & Open Local Government” in Market Square, along with a crowd of revved-up residents. Five City Council candidates attended on behalf of financial transparency– Esther Kennedy, Jim Splaine, Jack Thorsen, Rick Becksted and Duncan MacCallum, as well as two Police Commission candidates– the “two Joes,” Joe Onosko and Joe Plaia.
Today, Cohen encouraged people to use a red stamp he sells at a discount with messages like “NOT 2 B USED 2 BRIBE POLITICIANS.” One person stamping five bills a day for a year will reach over a million people in 2 1/2 years, he said. With 17 states on-board to amend the Constitution to get money out, Cohen said New Hampshire (with the First-in-Nation primary) is “Ground Zero.” And people united are more powerful than entrenched big money interests, he said.
Ultimately, the cure for money in politics is to give everyone in the country a $100 voucher to contribute to whatever candidate they want, Cohen said. Then he led the audience in a mock Pledge that ended: “One nation, incorruptible, with Liberty and Justice, for all.”
Here’s InDepthNH’s coverage of yesterday’s rally:
and the Herald’s: http://www.