Join Jeff McLean and the NH Rebellion

Why would people undertake a 150-mile walk from Dixville Notch to Nashua in January? Because they believe in the NH Rebellion.

Photo by John Hession

After Jeff McLean got involved in politics, he says it didn’t take long to see the reason for the country’s political problems — money. Because of its corrupting influence, he realized Congress had little incentive to reform itself and that a “new, more aggressive and comprehensive approach” was needed to solve the problem. Enter Lawrence Lessig — a Harvard law professor and political activist. He approached McLean about starting a non-partisan movement for reform called the NH Rebellion and McLean signed on. That was in October. In January, they led 200 people on a 185-mile walk from Dixville Notch to Nashua.

McLean says, “By taking on a daunting task, and the freezing cold of a week in January, the people of NH have now exhibited to the country that Americans have never shied away from what was once considered the impossible.” The inspiration for the walk was NH’s beloved “Granny D,” who walked across the country in 1999 to promote campaign finance reform.

Another walk is planned for July, this time 16 miles from Hampton Beach to Fort Constitution (shown here). McLean says the NH Rebellion will culminate in January 2016 when people in NH attend campaign events and ask every presidential candidate one question: How are you going to end the system of corruption in Washington, DC?

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What is the aim of NH Rebellion?

Without addressing the root problem of money in politics, it is impossible to address any of the major challenges we face as a nation. From the debt to the economy to education to healthcare to tax reform and everything in between, money runs the show and is the root problem. Members of Congress and the President raise money from the same interests they are expected to regulate. The New Hampshire Rebellion is engaging NH citizens in reforming this broken and corrupt system. We wish to make this the first and most pressing issue during the 2016 New Hampshire Presidential Primary.

Whose idea was it? And when did it start?

The NH Rebellion began in January with our walk from Dixville Notch to Nashua. Since then, it has attracted citizens from all political persuasions. The NH Rebellion remains a simple idea with a clear goal. Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig first approached me with the idea in October, and since then, it has been a real privilege to help spread the word.

Why New Hampshire?

New Hampshire holds the first presidential primary in the nation and as such, New Hampshire’s citizens are able to force Presidential candidates to address their concerns in a way that few US voters can. Article 10 of the New Hampshire State Constitution calls on its citizens to speak out and take action once they believe their grievances are not longer being heard. New Hampshire is, of course, the home of Doris “Granny D” Haddock who was far ahead of her time when it came to this issue. Finally, the citizens of New Hampshire have a long history of thinking independently and pragmatically. For each of these reasons New Hampshire is the ideal launching platform for this movement.

Why did you get involved?

I have been involved in New Hampshire politics for a number of years. After seeing behind the curtain at how money is the root cause of all our political problems, I began working as the Policy Director at Americans for Campaign Reform where I lobbied for a bill called the Fair Elections Now Act. Now, I know you might be surprised by this, but it turned out that members of Congress had, and continues to have, little incentive to reform themselves. I recognized it was time to take a new, more aggressive and comprehensive approach to solving this problem. The confluence of my passion for reforming our country, combined with the importance of my home state leading the way, has been an incredible opportunity and a profound experience.

Is it non-partisan?

Yes, we do not expect anyone to give up the conservative or progressive causes that they are most passionate about. We only ask them to recognize that none of us, anywhere on the ideological spectrum, will be able to solve the issues we hold dear until all of us fix the way Congress raises money for elections.

What influence did "Granny D" have on what you're doing?

Granny D provided the spark we needed to light the fire of the rebellion. Granny D walked 3,200 miles over 14 months. By walking the length of New Hampshire instead, we were able to get more than 200 people to walk with us and follow in her footsteps.  

Has the situation gotten better or worse since she walked?

Congress is more dependent than ever on the deep-pocketed private and special interests that run Washington. We are, however, optimistic as a growing number of citizens are recognizing by way of the Citizens United and McCutcheon decision that this issue of corruption is the fundamental root cause of the dysfunction we now see.

What do you mean by "corruption"?

The Constitution’s Framers instituted voting to ensure Congress represents the people...I repeat: Congress must represent the people. But raising money—and, thereby, representing the interests of the funders—is a far greater factor in winning elections than is voting. By corruption, we do not mean quid-pro-quo corruption. Instead, we are talking about a corruption of an entire system; one that every politician is trapped within and seems content with. It is skewing the priorities, warping incentives and leading to dysfunction which re-enforces itself every time a member of Congress, or the President, is forced to choose between doing what is best for the public and not what is best for re-election.

After the recent Supreme Court decision, do you really have any hope about getting money out of the political process?

In a way, McCutcheon was a gift. This corruption existed long before McCutcheon, but these decisions make the problem even clearer and now more pronounced. Our largest obstacle is not organized opposition to our cause; it is convincing Americans that this problem can be solved.

If things are so bad, why aren't people more angry about it?

People are angry about it. They’re furious! We performed polling in December, which found that 96 percent of Americans believe the role of money in politics needs to be reformed. But 91 percent of Americans believe that reform is impossible. To those 91 percent, a government free of (or at least, less dependent upon) the influence of big-money donors is about as realistic as suddenly being able to fly like Superman. So, instead, they focus on the things they believe they can change. Here in the early stages of the NH Rebellion, we are finding that many in New Hampshire believe that we can, indeed, make this change, and that this change starts right here in New Hampshire.

Does your group feel our democracy is threatened?

We feel our democracy is corrupted. If we do not have real reform, we will still hold elections. We will still be able to choose between Candidate A and Candidate B. It is just that no matter who is elected, the greater public interest will still take a back seat to big money and re-election. There is one thing that is more powerful than money — and that is citizens. Citizens that are well organized and that recognize that we can change the course we are on for generations to come. But we can only do this by working together.

Why is campaign finance reform key to change?

No matter what issue you think needs to be solved in this country, it cannot be solved without solving corruption first. The left will not get environmental protection or real healthcare reform. The right will not get a simpler tax system or a smaller, less intrusive government. Whatever it is you want changed — whatever vision you have of a better America — corruption in the way that Congress raises money is standing directly in the way.

What do you think the Founding Fathers would say about the political process today?

We don’t have to guess. James Madison said in Federalist #52, “[Congress] ought to be dependent on the people alone.” That’s the same sentiment we fight for today. Madison also discussed “faction,” or what we might refer to today as special interests, in Federalist #10. Madison’s fear was what it would be as if small groups of citizens, which held interests contrary to what was best for the entire community, took hold. Any guess as to what Madison would say if he could see us today?

Your literature says the January walk had an "enormous impact." What was it?

All across New Hampshire, more people are aware of the need to bring corruption forward as the First Issue of the 2016 New Hampshire Primary. We’ve communicated with the public as well as received coverage by members of the media at the state, national and international level. What we did not expect was the generous outpouring of support across the country from those who see what we have done in New Hampshire and wish to follow in our (figurative and literal) footsteps. Our “little” 185-mile walk was one giant leap forward for the cause of reform.

Why walk in the cold and ice of January?

Most believe (96 percent) that this change is essential. Yet, 91 percent of the public believes that this essential change isn’t possible. By taking on a daunting task, and the freezing cold of a week in January, the people of New Hampshire have now exhibited to the country that Americans have never shied away from what was once considered the impossible. We wanted our physical conditions to reflect our intellectual and pragmatic commitment.

Is it true that you have a song?

We do! Many of our supporters are creative and we encourage everyone to contribute in their own way. One supporter in California wrote us a song about our walk that harkens back to Granny D. The song mirrors the importance of this cause and the need to create a better future for our children.

What are your plans for the upcoming presidential primary in NH?

The NH Rebellion will culminate in January 2016 when New Hampshirites attend campaign events and ask every presidential primary candidate this one specific question: “How are you going to end the system of corruption in Washington D.C.?” Voters will both ask these questions and record videos as politicians respond—or fail to respond—to the questioner. We are also holding house parties, asking people to sign our petition, and asking the citizens of New Hampshire to come out and join us during one of our future walks. Not only is it great exercise, but we have found that many learn a lot from one another and our walks have proven that we do stand united against this root problem.

Talk about the July walk on the Seacoast.

We’re working hard to reach New Hampshire voters all year round, and the walks are a powerful way to make a statement and connect directly with people. We invite individuals, families, friends, colleagues and anyone you can think of to come and join us on July 5 as we walk from Hampton Beach up to Fort Constitution in New Castle.

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