House endorses campaign finance legislation

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(Host) The Vermont House has endorsed campaign finance legislation that raises the amount individuals can give to parties and candidates.

The bill allows people to give $2,000 dollars to gubernatorial candidates for each election cycle.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The bill is designed to replace a campaign finance law that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down last year as an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.

That law, first passed in 1997, set a $400 total limit for an individual’s contribution to a gubernatorial candidate. The new legislation raises that amount by five times. The bill also raises the contribution limit for other statewide offices.

Paul Burns is a director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. He says the legislation makes sense, given the Supreme Court’s ruling.

(Burns) “This establishes reasonable limits and does the best job we can I think, given the court’s decision, at reducing the powerful influence of money and politics.”

(Dillon) But on the House floor, Republican lawmakers challenged the fundamental premise of the bill. Barre Town Republican Thomas Koch said Vermont does not have a history of money influencing politics.

(Koch) “Nothing has changed in terms of corruption, or the appearance of corruption, to justify the adoption of the type of bill that the Government Operations Committee presents to us. The only appearance of corruption that I see is the fact that people are suggesting that these campaign limits are necessary because there’s an appearance of corruption.”

(Dillon) Koch wanted to replace the legislation with an amendment that would do away with most of the limits on campaign contributions. Under the Koch amendment, candidates would be required to strictly report their contributions.

Ripton Democrat Willem Jewett spoke against the Koch amendment.

(Jewett) “This amendment is a no limit proposal. No limits on campaign contributions. It creates an open door to the influence of money on Vermont elections and Vermont politics.”

(Dillon) The House rejected the Koch amendment and advanced the bill. It now has to be reconciled with a Senate version that is slightly different.

Besides raising the amount individuals can give to gubernatorial candidates, the legislation also limits how much one person can give in total to political action committees, parties and candidates. Paul Burns of V-PIRG explains.

(Burns) “So it’s a total of $40,000 that you can give over the course of a two-year election cycle to influence elections in this state. I think that is not going to inconvenience very many Vermonters but it’s one way to put at least some sort of limit on what a single wealthy person or corporation can do to influence those races.”

(Dillon) The campaign finance law affects local and state races, not campaigns for federal office.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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