Campaign finance reform bill moving quickly through Legislature

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(Host) Supporters of a new campaign finance reform bill say their measure is needed to eliminate "the appearance" of corruption in Vermont politics.

But opponents of the legislation argue it’s unconstitutional, and will be overturned by the courts.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The campaign finance reform bill is moving quickly through the Legislature because supporters want it to apply to this year’s election.

The Senate has already passed the legislation and it’s now being reviewed by the House Government Operations committee.

Last year, Governor Jim Douglas vetoed a similar bill and the House sustained the veto by a one vote margin.

Douglas has two major objections to the bill. One, it sets different contribution limits for the governor’s race and other statewide offices. And second, the bill limits how much money a state or national political party can give an individual candidate. The cap in the governor’s race is $30,000.

Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Republican Party chairman Rob Roper said the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Vermont’s previous law because its contribution limits were too low. Roper thinks the new bill is also unconstitutional:

(Roper) "What the Vermont Republican Party is advocating…is to return to the pre-1997 law with an index for inflation which would satisfy constitutional muster….We operated the last 2006 election cycle under this law on a handshake agreement. We’re saying just codify it – make that the law.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group is a strong supporter of the new campaign finance reform bill. VPIRG’s executive director is Paul Burns:

(Burns)"There is an appearance of corruption that the court has also recognized as being a legitimate reason for putting some rational limits what individuals corporations PACS and others can give to candidates the limits contained in this bill are not the lowest in the nation and we are not trying to limit what candidates can spend in a race."

House Speaker Gaye Symington says she’s ready to challenge the governor once again on this issue:

(Symington)"I’m very confident in this legislation and again I think it’s our job to stand up and write the law that represents the values of Vermonters that money should not have overriding influence on our elections."

The bill could be on the House floor for a vote in the next two weeks. Unless the House makes some significant changes to the legislation, it’s likely that the governor will veto it once again.

This time the Democrats think they have enough votes to override the veto.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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