Senate approves campaign finance bill


DAVE GRAM, Associated Press

MONTPELIER -- A campaign finance bill that critics have labeled a retreat from real reform but whose chief backer has called a baseline for further changes was given final passage by the state Senate on Thursday and was sent to Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin.

The conference committee report approved by the Senate more than doubled the maximum contributions a person, corporation or political committee could make to a political party from the limits earlier approved by the House and Senate. It also dropped provisions that would have identified political donors’ employers and occupations, as federal law requires for presidential and congressional campaign donors.

The bill, which a gubernatorial spokeswoman said Shumlin expects to sign, is a milestone on a long and winding road that saw Vermont’s last major effort at regulating political money shot down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006. Since then, there have been varying legal opinions whether that ruling put a 1981 campaign finance law back into effect or whether the state effectively had no law.

The bill’s primary supporter, Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, chairwoman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, told her Senate colleagues the conference committee’s version of it was a compromise devised in part to withstand potential court challenges.

Without a current campaign finance law firmly in place, "we couldn’t make changes, because there was nothing to make changes to," White said.

She said she would welcome future improvements in what the Senate passed Thursday.

The bill, as sent to the governor, calls for a $1,000 limit on contributions to state House or local municipal candidates; $1,500 for those running for the Senate or in other county-wide races; and $4,000 for those running for statewide office.

Critics zeroed in on a conference committee decision to back a sharp increase in how much individuals, corporations and political committees can contribute to political parties. The Senate limited contributions to parties to $3,000 per two-year election cycle; the House set it at $5,000, according to a spreadsheet distributed to senators. The conference committee set it at $10,000.

Sen. Peter Galbraith, White’s fellow Windham County Democrat, raised a point of order about that, arguing that conference committee versions of bills are supposed to be built from provisions that passed the House and the Senate, rather than having the committee craft new ones on its own.

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott ruled against Galbraith’s point of order.


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