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Long-Awaited Campaign Finance Bill Passes Vermont House

In a 124-15 vote, the Vermont House passed S.82, a contentious campaign finance bill rolled over from last session.
MONTPELIER - In a 124-15 vote, the Vermont House passed S.82, a contentious campaign finance bill rolled over from last session.

The bill limits how much money individuals can donate to political campaigns in the state.

Vermont hasn't had a campaign finance law since 2006, when courts struck down the 1997 campaign finance law. Rep. Debbie Evans (D-Essex) says that was because the limits were too low and didn't adjust for inflation.

Since then, Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham) says some state leaders reverted back to the 1981 law, which limited donors to $2,000 per candidate.

"We didn't actually re-adopt that," White said about the 1981 law. "So whether we have any limits now, or any law at all is up in the air."

The new campaign finance bill passed in the Senate in 2013, then was amended by the House. It went to a conference committee made up of three House members and three Senate members, chaired by Rep. Evans.

On the House floor Thursday, Rep. Evans said "We're living in a sort of Wild West situation."

The compromised bill that came out of the conference committee would raise the donation limits for statewide candidates to $4,000. It would lower the limits for local elections, to $1,500 for Senate candidates and $1,000 for House candidates.

"In our mind, it didn't make any sense that you could contribute the same amount to a House member's race as to a statewide candidate's race," said Sen. White. "It costs a lot more to conduct a statewide race."

Individuals would be able to donate much more money to political parties themselves: up to $10,000. Sen. White says this is because a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows people to donate unlimited amounts to SuperPACs, and parties need to be able to compete with that. There are no limits to have much money parties and SuperPACs can donate to candidates.

Though the bill passed the House by a wide margin, many representatives declared they didn't agree with several parts of the bill, but were voting yes because it was important to get something passed. This was the fourth attempt since 2006 to pass a campaign finance bill.

Secretary of State Jim Condos echoed that sentiment. He says he disagreed with the $4,000 limit for statewide candidates because there was no evidence the limit needed to be raised. But, he supports passage of the bill.

"We're basically operating sort of in limbo," said Sec. Condos. "It was important we get something on the books that was legitimate."

Sec. Condos says no more money will be needed to implement the law if it passes. Regardless of whether it passes, his office is implementing a new online system where the public can see who donated and how much.

"We all want increased transparency," said Sen. White.

The bill will go to the Senate next week, and then to Governor Shumlin's desk for signature.
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