Absence of House Democrats likely factor in veto vote

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(Host) In a special session yesterday, the lawmakers failed to override Governor Jim Douglas’s veto of campaign finance reform legislation by a single vote in the Vermont House.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) In the end, the failure of 3 House Democrats to return for the special veto session was probably the deciding factor.

The bill sets contribution limits for statewide and legislative candidates and it caps the amount of money that a political party can give to one of its candidates. In the governor’s race – the cap is set at $30,000.

Windsor senator John Campbell argued that this cap on political parties was needed after two national Republican groups gave Jim Douglas $630,000 in his first race for Governor in 2002.

(Campbell) “It tells you the fact of how much money is actually put into these state races by national parties. And I don’t think that that’s correct. I think what we’re doing here is we’re a service to Vermonters. We’re doing a service to the politics of this state.”

(Kinzel) But Caledonia senator George Coppenwrath said the bill had some serious flaws.

(Coppenwrath) “Attempts to regulate free speech during elections is a dangerous and slippery slope to start down. Free speech and free press are cornerstones of our Bill of Rights and should be embraced and guarded.”

(Kinzel) The Senate voted Twenty-four to five to override the governor’s veto. Twenty votes were needed.

The bill then proceeded to the House for its consideration. Burlington Progressive Chris Pearson said it was critical to pass the legislation.

(Pearson) “This is an attempt to address the influence that happens on the legislative process. The United States Supreme Court has upheld limits that are smaller than the limits in this bill before you today. The public knows that money impacts the system. It’s plain common sense.”

(Kinzel) But Burlington Republican Kurt Wright said the bill wasn’t needed.

(Wright) “I supported John McCain’s run for office over George Bush in 2000. I supported his move to have campaign finance on a national level. But I do not think Vermont is the same as Washington Madame Speaker.”

(Kinzel) The effort to override the veto fell one vote short when one Democrat, St. Albans Rep. George Allard, joined with all 49 Republicans in voting against the bill and three Democrats were absent.

Supporters of the bill say they’ll try to revisit this issue with new legislation in January.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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