Douglas worried about campaign finance reform law

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he has some serious concerns about a new campaign finance reform law that won approval in the final days of the legislative session.

Douglas is worried that the law could be unconstitutional and might be overturned in court.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Lawmakers wanted to address this issue because the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Vermont’s previous law last year.

The Court ruled that placing caps on candidate spending was unconstitutional and it also decided that the contribution levels in the old law were too low.

Under the new law, candidates for governor can receive up to a thousand dollars from a single donor in the primary election and another thousand dollars for the general election. The limits for other statewide candidates are lower.

The law also caps the total amount of contributions of any single donor for all races to $20,000 every two years. The governor says he isn’t sure this limit is constitutional.

(Douglas) “We live in a country where the First Amendment is respected for free political speech and to limit that needs to be done very very carefully.”

(Kinzel) Douglas also has concerns about a provision in the new law that limits contributions by political parties to individual candidates to 30 thousand dollars for each election:

(Douglas) “Political parties are not special interest groups. They’re whole purpose for being is to raise money fort the support of the candidates that adhere to those particular parties and the limitations there might be troubling as well.”

(Kinzel) Backers of the new law have a very different viewpoint. Paul Burns is the director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

(Burns) “We have seen instances in the recent past where the national political parties for instance gave more than one dollar out of every two to the major party candidates running for governor in this state. That’s a tremendous amount of influence.”

(Kinzel) Burns thinks placing caps on the total amount of contributions by any individual also makes a lot of sense:

(Burns) “You could give to all candidates running for governor and therefore it’s not about electing somebody who shares your philosophy but rather just having some sort of influence over whoever gets elected because you’ve given them some money that doesn’t seem like good public policy.”

(Kinzel) The governor says he plans to make a final decision about the new law after his legal team has had an opportunity to thoroughly review the legislation.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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