Former New Hampshire House speaker Bill O’Brien is trying to line up potential Republican presidential candidates to speak to his House supporters and like-minded activists in a series of monthly meetings he hopes will begin in February.
O’Brien said there is no “pay to appear” or “pay to play” requirement, but sources familiar with the situation said O’Brien or his allies, while issuing invitations, asked for $50,000 from one potential campaign and $25,000 from another, as contributions to the House Republican Victory PAC, which O’Brien chairs.
As is well-known in New Hampshire, O’Brien is at odds with House speaker Shawn Jasper, who defeated O’Brien in the Dec. 3 House election for speaker, with more than 80 percent of Jasper’s vote coming from the House Democratic caucus.
A vote last week on a rules change promoted by the O’Brien forces showed a continued split in the House GOP, with 118 members voting for O‘Brien’s position and 111 GOP members voting against. The rule change, which was defeated, would have required Jasper to appoint O’Brien —who won the House Republican caucus nomination for Speaker in November – as the House Majority Leader.
O’Brien has appointed his own leadership team and has said he wants to set up an office for his caucus across the street from the State House. The split could make it uncomfortable for presidential candidates who want to make their cases to House Republicans but yet do not want to get caught up in the dispute.
O’Brien on Tuesday declined to discuss specific dollar amounts, but said he has made requests that campaigns contribute to the PAC to help defray the expenses of the planned events.
O’Brien said the events will give each candidate an opportunity to meet with conservative activists for lengthy meetings and be able to provide detailed answers to their question on a variety of issues, rather than simply appear before them and deliver relatively brief speeches.
“The Republican majority caucus has as its reason to exist to be a strong voice in New Hampshire for conservative causes and be a strong voice statewide for those causes,” O’Brien said. “We’re inviting presidential candidates to come and speak with us and the activists who work with us. We hope all presidential candidates will come to talk to us about the need for conservative leadership.”
He said plans call for monthly meetings “where we’ll have one candidate or potential candidate come and talk to the caucus. This will be an opportunity for a candidate to come and speak with activists inside and outside of the Legislature.”
O’Brien said there is no “pay to appear” arrangement, but he said, “Obviously, there is a cost associated with it, and we would not charge any sort of admission fee” for Granite Staters who are invited to attend. “We want the activists to be able to come and have the candidates have access to them, and we are talking to each of the campaigns about helping. Obviously we need some sort of financial assistance” to defray costs of the events, he said.
“It’s not a ‘pay to play’ or a ‘pay to appear,’” O’Brien said. “But we would assume they’d help us out because we certainly don’t have the resources” to foot the entire bills for the events.
“We are in no position to compel the campaigns to do anything,” O’Brien said. “But I’m sure each campaign will want to help us.”
He said the meetings will be open to members of the media, who he assumed would have an opportunity to interview the candidates.
O’Brien also said that he intends to travel to Iowa later this month to speak to the “Freedom Summit” being hosted by Citizens United and U.S. Rep. Steve King. He said he will be speaking with presidential candidates at that event as well about his planned meetings in New Hampshire.