Legislature looks at campaign finance reform

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(Host intro) The Legislature is moving quickly to pass a new campaign finance reform law in time for the 2008 elections. But Governor Jim Douglas says it’s unfair to impose new rules because some campaigns are already raising money.

This issue is shaping up as the first major battle between Democratic leaders and the governor this session.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The bill could be on the Senate floor for a vote by the end of this week. The issue is back before lawmakers because the Governor vetoed a similar bill at the end of last session, and by a one-vote margin, the House sustained the veto.

Douglas vetoed the bill for two reasons: It set different contribution levels for various statewide officials, and it placed limits on how much money a political party can give a candidate. In the governor’s race, the limit was set at $30,000 each for the primary and the general election.

The Senate Government Operations Committee may take care of the governor’s first concern by adopting uniform contribution limits. But it’s unlikely that it will remove all limits on political parties.

Legislative leaders are pushing for quick action on this bill. Douglas thinks it’s a mistake:

(Douglas) "It just seems fairer to begin at the start of a new biennium campaign cycle rather than changing the rules in the middle of game. I really think changes should be effective for the next time."

(Kinzel) Secretary of State Deb Markowitz disagrees and believes it’s important to implement a new law as soon as possible:

(Markowitz) "It’s not too late. You have to understand that every person in politics in Vermont – every candidate, every elected official – is on notice that the governor vetoed the bill last summer and that the Legislature was planning to bring it back in some form again this January."

(Kinzel) Markowitz is backing contribution limits on political parties because she says there’s less accountability of this money.

(Markowitz) "And that means there’s no transparency. Where did that money come from? We escalated our prices of our campaigns – how much it costs to get elected in Vermont – by leaving this wide open."

(Kinzel) But Douglas argues that the main purpose of political parties is to get their candidates elected.

(Douglas) "And frankly any limit on the ability of the local political party to give money is an invitation for special interests to do so, for the attack PACs that we’ve seen in other campaigns. I really think it’s a serious mistake."

(Kinzel) Douglas says he’s willing to back a bill that places limits on national political parties as long as there are no limits on state parties.

Markowitz says this compromise would undermine the intent of the new bill.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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