Vermont Campaign Finance Bill Vetoed

Official Statement of the Governor on S.164 An Act Relating to Campaign Finance (via the Burlington Free Press)

Pursuant to Chapter II, Section 11 of the Vermont Constitution, I am vetoing S. 164, An Act Relating to Campaign Finance.

I had hoped this session to sign a meaningful campaign finance reform measure and continue to support reforms that do not advantage incumbents, set reasonable contribution limits, establish timely and transparent reporting requirements and reflect Vermont’s values and commitment to free speech. Unfortunately, a thorough analysis of this bill reveals considerable flaws that threaten to undermine the integrity of Vermont’s election processes and the core values that for more than 200 years have governed them.

The proposed individual and party contribution limits extend a form of political protection to incumbents, establish an unfair and nearly insurmountable obstacle for challengers and would be a particular disadvantage to those of modest means who are unable to fund their own campaign. Vermonters want real reform that ensures truly level playing fields for incumbents and challengers alike—a fundamental component of democracy.

At the statewide level, the political protection for down-ticket incumbents is very problematic. The contribution limits for these statewide offices are lower than those imposed for candidates for governor, even though the candidates must cover the same geographical area and have to reach the same number of voters. Additionally, increased restrictions on support for these candidates will make it extraordinarily difficult for a Vermonter who wishes to seek these public offices but who does not have significant personal wealth to mount a credible statewide campaign.

Vermonters run clean, honest and transparent elections and this bill would undermine that tradition by encouraging the swift proliferation of special interest political action committees (PACs). Unfortunately, this bill has the regrettable appearance of being written by special interest groups with their own self-interest in mind.

The proposed limits on the activity of parties will empower special interest groups—whose independent actions and expenditures are unlimited—and provide a platform for these well-financed, often out-of-state, organizations to run more ads and make more independent expenditures than ever before. An election system once predominantly financed by Vermonters would be influenced more significantly by special interest PACs. I do not believe this is the direction Vermonters want to move in or what anyone except the special interests would consider reform.

While I make no determination as to the constitutionality of S. 164, like the law rejected as unconstitutional last year by the Supreme Court of the United States, we can be certain that it would be challenged. The previous lawsuit took ten years to play out in court and may cost taxpayers nearly $1.5 million in fees to the prevailing attorneys alone. My decision today provides the Legislature with an opportunity to craft a measure that reflects a consensus among all stakeholders and makes further more costly litigation less likely.

I again extend to the Legislature my commitment to meaningful reforms that establish reasonable limits, establish fair campaign finance standards and enhance transparency. I look forward to working with the Legislature and all stakeholders next session to craft a bill that reflects the values of Vermont.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.