Political contributions central issue in Douglas veto

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(Host) Should political parties be allowed to give an unlimited amount of money to their statewide and legislative candidates?

That question is one of the central issues in Governor Jim Douglas’s veto of a new campaign finance reform bill.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Although there are several parts of the new bill that concern the governor, there’s one provision that stands out as the major problem – a limitation on how much money a political party can contribute to its statewide and legislative candidates.

The limit for a gubernatorial race is $30,000. In a Vermont House race the limit is $1,000.

The change is important because in the 2002 gubernatorial race, the national political parties contributed several hundred thousand dollars to their candidates. Governor Douglas was the largest beneficiary of these contributions.

Douglas says it’s wrong to limit spending by political parties because he says the parties need to be able to help their candidates respond to negative ads that are financed by independent groups:

(Douglas) “There needs to be a level playing field. To say that special interest PACS can spend as much as they want, but political parties cannot I think is an invitation to more money coming into special interest PACs. I really believe if Vermonters liked the Swift Boat attack ads of the most recent presidential campaign they’ll love this bill.”

(Kinzel) The Vermont Public Interest Research Group strongly supports the new bill. Director Paul Burns says the governor’s argument doesn’t have much merit.

(Burns) “I think the best defense against that sort of thing is that this is Vermont and people don’t take very kindly to the Swift Boat veterans kind of advertising campaign here. So we don’t need to allow unlimited political spending by political parties to defend against that sort of thing. The defense is that people don’t like that kind of advertising here and it won’t work for any candidate who tries to use it.”

(Kinzel) House Speaker Gaye Symington says she was astonished that the governor vetoed the bill because he never indicated to her during the session that he had a problem with the legislation.

Symington says her job now is finding the votes to override the veto:

(Symington) “I think this legislation represents reasonable and constitutional restraints on the influence of money on campaigns and my job is to help the legislators understand that and to pass the bill the governor’s veto not withstanding.”

(Host) The legislature will return to the Statehouse in a special veto session on July 11th to consider the governor’s veto of this bill and his veto of global warming legislation.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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