Veto fight outcome could determine campaign rules

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas’s veto of a comprehensive energy bill has been the primary focus of Wednesday’s special legislative session.

But as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the outcome of a veto fight over a campaign finance reform bill could determine the ground rules for the 2008 campaign.

(Kinzel) The legislation is an effort to re-establish contribution levels for statewide and legislative candidates. Backers of the bill say it’s needed because the U.S. Supreme Court overturned many provisions of Vermont’s 1997 law last year.

The governor says one of the key reasons he vetoed the bill is because the legislation places new restrictions on contributions from political parties to candidates.

For instance, a state party’s contribution to its gubernatorial candidate would be capped at $30,000 and the national party would face the same limits.

That’s a big change from 2002, when
several National Republican Party committees gave Jim Douglas more than $600,000 in his first campaign.

Paul Burns is the executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. VPIRG is a strong supporter of the bill.

(Burns) “Over one fourth of all the money that he has spent in his races to be elected as governor has come from political parties. And I think that’s more influence than those political parties deserve, and more influence than the industries that give to those parties deserve.”

(Kinzel) Rob Roper is the executive director of the Vermont Republican Party. He says the new limits on political party contributions will lead to increased spending by special interest groups:

(Roper) “So is the money just going to go out of the light where the voters can see it and into these more shadowy organizations where the money’s still going to be spent but you don’t know what motivations are behind those dollars coming in?”

(Kinzel) Roper is also convinced that the law is unconstitutional because it sets different contribution limits for different statewide candidates.

(Roper) “So that’s just a no-brainer in our minds that somebody is going to challenge that in court. The ramifications if you look at the last case we had was just used as a precedent to knock down other campaign finance laws.”

(Kinzel) VPIRG director Paul Burns says lawmakers could also be inviting a lawsuit if they sustain the governor’s veto. That’s because he says it’s not clear that the state can automatically impose the pre 1997 limits without specific legislative approval.

(Burns) “We could be in some jeopardy of having no limits at all in place for the 2008 elections. And I think that is the most irresponsible thing the governor has done in this entire legislative season.”

(Kinzel) Statehouse observers believe the vote to override the governor’s veto on this legislation will be very close and the outcome could hinge on the number of lawmakers of either party who are unable to return to Montpelier on Wednesday for the vote.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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