Federal Rules Impact Fundraising for Governor’s Race

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(Host) Both Republican and Democratic leaders say spending on this year’s gubernatorial race should be lower than two years ago because of new federal campaign finance reform legislation.

But as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, that doesn’t mean voters will be seeing fewer campaign TV ads this fall.

(Kinzel) In 2002, money from the national political parties played a major role in Vermont’s gubernatorial campaign. Republican candidate Jim Douglas received roughly half of his $1.2 million from committees of the National Republican Party. Democratic candidate Doug Racine spent roughly $800,000 on his campaign and approximately 50 percent of his money came from National Democratic committees.

This national money will be harder for candidates to get this year because of changes included in the federal McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. The national parties will no longer be able to set up a special fund to assist their state candidates. Instead, local candidates will have to compete with the national presidential ticket for this money.

Mark Michaud, the director of the state Democratic Party, says it’s likely this change at the national level will probably reduce overall spending in the gubernatorial race this year:

(Michaud) “They are very much retooling themselves to focus on the critical battleground states and that is where a lot of their energy and a lot of their money goes. But that having been said, the national party also plays an important role in a lot of cases – that means monetarily in other races down the ballot, including governors races.”

(Kinzel) Neil Lunderville, who’s the director of Governor Jim Douglas’s campaign, thinks the change will force Vermont candidates to raise more money on their own:

(Lunderville) “We shook the tree pretty good two years ago but we have to do more this time. At a maximum contribution of $400 per person or company, we have to really do a lot of events and do a lot of fundraising letters and generally work harder than we did two years ago.”

(Kinzel) Martha Abbot, the chair of the Vermont Progressive Party, thinks that while candidate spending in the gubernatorial race will go down, overall spending will increase because McCain-Feingold allows independent interest groups to run aggressive media campaigns:

(Abbot) “They just pick the candidate they kind of want to go after and often are used to do negative campaigns that are theoretically not associated with the candidate they’re supporting. That’s a big loophole. So it seems to me that we need to move in the direction of public financing and only public financing. Get private money out of the election process.”

(Kinzel) Several independent groups ran media ads during Vermont’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign. Abbot is concerned that they will play a far larger role in this year’s campaign.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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