Analysts debate impact of VT campaign finance ruling

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(Host) Yesterday’s court ruling in support of limits on campaign spending and contributions in Vermont may have broader implications. Experts say the federal appeals court’s action could lead to an important U.S. Supreme Court decision on the issue.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) In upholding provisions in the Vermont law that limits campaign spending, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York has put itself at odds with rulings by two other circuit courts.

John Samples is with the Cato Institute in Washington D.C. Samples says campaign spending is a first amendment right. He says Wednesday’s ruling has created a confusing situation that the high court will have to resolve.

(Samples) “This case in Vermont is in conflict with a couple of other cases from Ohio and New Mexico at the lower federal level. So between the two things, the conflict with the earlier decision and the conflict among the circuit courts, I think you’ll find that the Supreme Court’s going to have to address this eventually. I can’t believe that this decision is going to stand.”

(Zind) Samples says he doesn’t believe the circuit court’s decision in favor of Vermont’s campaign spending law will lead other states to limit campaign spending. And he doesn’t think other courts will follow suit.

(Samples) “Vermont is in many ways a very unique state. The other question is, will the Vermont decision affect other courts. I think that’s hard to say, but I kind of doubt it.”

(Zind) Matt Keller of Common Cause in Washington disagrees. Keller says the court’s decision is a major turning point in the effort to enact campaign spending reform.

(Keller) “I think it will have a significant impact. The Second Circuit Court of appeals, in a strongly worded decision, said that money is a corrupting influence in the American political system. This isn’t some small court out there.”

(Zind) Keller says passage of the campaign financing law in Congress this year and the ruling on the Vermont law have created a long awaited opportunity for the Supreme Court to rule on this issue.

(Keller) “This is the opportunity the court has to really rule on this stuff like it hasn’t ruled in over 25 years, and this is going to be part of the mix.”

(Zind) Keller says he expects other states will wait until a high court ruling before considering legislation similar to Vermont’s. He says a ruling on a challenge to newly enacted federal campaign reform law could come as early as next summer.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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