Debate ahead on campaign finance reform

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(Host) The House this week is set to debate a new campaign finance reform law.

Supporters say the bill will help reduce the influence of money in Vermont campaigns. But opponents argue it will undermine the role of political parties, and that the legislation is unconstitutional.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Last year, Governor Jim Douglas vetoed a campaign finance reform bill because the legislation established different contribution limits for the various statewide races and because it placed new limits on how much money state and national political parties could contribute to candidates.

The new bill drafted by the House Government Operations committee addresses the governor’s first concern but not the second.

That’s because the plan places a cap on political party contributions to gubernatorial candidates. The state and national parties are each limited to $30,000 for a primary election and another $30,000 for the general election.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz supports this change:

(Markowitz)" That’s been a major problem for the state of Vermont when you think about money pouring in, in an unlimited way to political campaigns. You should understand what the Legislature has done is quite reasonable right now…$120,000 can go from the political parties to a gubernatorial candidate – that’s a lot of money."

(Kinzel) Republican Party chairman Rob Roper opposes the law because he says it’s an effort to limit the influence of political parties:

(Roper) "It is a problem for us because that’s the primary role of the parties to support our candidates and we think that this bill is really aimed at shutting us down."

(Kinzel) The GOP was part of a successful effort to overturn the state’s previous campaign finance reform law and Roper says it’s likely that this new plan will also be challenged in court if it becomes law:

(Roper) "Apart from being unconstitutional it’s bad for democracy."

(Kinzel) But Markowitz says it’s wrong for lawmakers to be influenced by the threat of legal action:

(Markowitz) "So should that threat mean that the Legislature doesn’t enact important public policy for the state? I don’t think so."

(Kinzel) Last year the Governor’s veto was sustained by a one vote margin in the House. Because a number of supporters were absent at the time of the vote, backers of the bill believe they’ll have the votes this session to overturn a possible gubernatorial veto.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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