Legislation May Preserve Campign Finance Rules

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(Host) It now appears likely that the House is going to reject Governor Howard Dean’s plan to eliminate all funding for the state’s public campaign fund.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) It’s hard to find an issue at the Statehouse where the dynamics surrounding its debate are as convoluted as the fight over the future of the state’s fund to publicly finance campaigns.

When the campaign finance reform law was passed several years ago it had the support of many Democrats and some Republicans. Then the part of the law that imposed overall spending limits for statewide and legislative candidates was found to be unconstitutional by a federal judge. However, a public financing provision and limits on individual contributions were left in place.

In the 2000 election, two candidates qualified for public funds – Progressive gubernatorial candidate Anthony Pollina and Lieutenant. Governor Doug Racine.

The public financing fund currently has just over a million dollars in it and in his supplemental budget plan, Governor Howard Dean proposed taking all of the money out of the fund to help offset other budget cuts. Dean says he would support restoring these funds once the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on this case.

The Progressives were outraged and saw Dean’s actions as a deliberate move to limit the Party’s influence in this fall’s campaigns for governor and lieutenant governor.

Now House Republicans, many of whom opposed the public financing plan, are supporting an effort to leave at least $400 thousand in the fund for this year’s election. Some observers think the Republicans feel they have a better chance to win the governor’s race if there is a strong Progressive candidate in the campaign.

West Rutland Representative Judith Crowley is the chair of the House Local Government committee. Crowley says the issue has boiled down to one of trust:

(Crowley) “I’m not a big fan of public financing but I think we did, we made a promise as a Legislature years back and I think we should follow through on it.”

(Kinzel) Peter Sterling is a senior policy advisor for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. VPIRG has been a strong supporter of campaign finance reform and Sterling says the support of the House Local Government committee is an important first step in preserving the public campaign fund:

(Sterling) “We think raiding the fund is the wrong way to go, but the fact that there will be money in there according to the House’s proposal to support clean money candidates in the upcoming elections is a great thing. The House leadership should be applauded for that.”

(Kinzel) The issue will be part of this year’s supplement budget bill. This legislation could be on the House floor for a vote in the next ten days.

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

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