Senators Consider Financing Moratorium

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(Host) A bi-partisan group of senators wants to consider placing a moratorium on public financing of statewide races until a lawsuit over Vermont’s campaign finance reform law has been resolved. The plan is being opposed by members of the Progressive Party.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Backers of the moratorium say their plan is needed because it makes no sense to have public financing without strict spending caps on statewide races.

Vermont’s 1997 campaign finance reform law included both spending caps and public financing. The law set a three-hundred-thousand-dollar spending limit in the race for governor, and it allowed candidates to receive most of this money in public funds if the candidate could raise thirty-five-thousand dollars in small donations. But in 2000, a federal judge struck down the spending caps. However, the public financing provision was left in place.

Since then, three statewide candidates have qualified for public funds, Progressives, Anthony Pollina and Steve Hingten, and Democrat, Doug Racine in a race for Lt. Governor.

Senate Government Operations chairman, Jim Condos, says a moratorium on public financing makes sense, because very few candidates are willing to use a system that places them at a significant disadvantage.

(Condos) “There is reason to believe that would be a good idea. Without the expenditure limits public financing really becomes a moot issue because, the amount of money is limited from the public financing standpoint, yet the campaigns have actually grown so much from the financing stand point that it really doesn’t work.”

(Kinzel) Bennington Republican, Mark Shepard, has introduced legislation that abolishes all public financing. He strongly supports the moratorium idea.

(Shepard) “My real issue is that a citizen shouldn’t have to support a candidate that they don’t support, that they think would promote policies that they wouldn’t want. And that’s really a fundamental issue that I have with public financing using tax dollars for a campaign. If you want to support a campaign, give to the campaign.”

(Kinzel) David Zuckerman is a Progressive representative from Burlington. He’s disappointed by the plan and he thinks lawmakers should take a different approach:

(Zuckerman) “If the senate were fully committed to public financing they would move more in the direction of matching funding for those that choose to do public financing – to match the money that the private financing candidates do, rather than move to essentially eliminate public financing until some further time in the future. Who knows when that’s going to be.”

(Kinzel) It’s likely that the committee will discuss this proposal later this week when it considers other changes to the state’s campaign finance reform law.

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

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