December 2003 Press Release
Lauds Campaign Finance Ruling
Contact Marianne Lynch 802-828-2148
Montpelier. Secretary of State Deb Markowitz said, "the weekís court ruling upholding the McCain-Feingold law is great news for Vermont." Markowitz said "this ruling is great news for Vermont not just because of its effect on the influence of money on national campaigns but because it provides very strong language that may help in the defense of Vermontís Campaign Finance Reform law."
In 1996 the Vermont Legislature adopted the most comprehensive and aggressive campaign finance law in the nation. The law limited campaign contributions to candidates, PACs and political parties, it defined and limited related expenditures on behalf of candidates, it limited out of state contributions and set limits on candidate spending. The law also included a public finance provision for candidates for governor and lieutenant governor. Some of the lawís provisions were adopted with the express intent of challenging restrictive readings of United States Supreme Court precedent Buckley v. Valeo, and as expected a court case followed.
On August 10, 2000, the Vermont Federal District Court struck some of the provisions of the law as unconstitutional. See Landell et al v. Sorrell et al, Docket No. 2:00-cv-146. (The decision is available at http://www.vtb.uscourts.gov.) A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision. The case is now awaiting reconsideration by the full panel of the Second Circuit Court of appeals.
In a ruling Wednesday the United States Supreme Court upheld significant portions of the Federal McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. The court upheld the challenged limits on soft money contributions to political parties and to some limitation on pre-election issue ads that target a particular candidate. The court reasoned that "large soft-money contributions to national party committees have a corrupting influence or give rise to the appearance of corruption." McConnell v. F.E.C.
Markowitz said, " although the McCain-Feingold decision did not address the issue of limits on candidate spending, strong language by majority may be an indication that the Supreme Court is ready to narrow its earlier rulings that the first amendment prohibits limits on candidate spending." Markowitz also noted that much of the language in the majority decision was similar to the findings of the Vermont District Court in its decision that upheld significant portions of Vermontís law.
The Supreme Court held that under the current system "corporate, union and wealthy individual donors have been free to contribute substantial sums of soft money to the national parties, which the parties can spend for the specific purpose of influencing a particular candidate's federal election. It is not only plausible, but likely, that candidates would feel grateful for such donations and that donors would seek to exploit that gratitude." The court stated "[j]ust as troubling to a functioning democracy as classic quid pro quo corruption is the danger that officeholders will decide issues not on the merits or the desires of their constituencies, but according to the wishes of those who have made large financial contributions valued by the officeholder."
Markowitz said, "this decision also puts new life into Vermontís arguments that contributions from political parties to candidates can be controlled. This case may let us close the loophole that permits political parties to make unlimited contributions to candidates." The Supreme Court held that "Congress is fully entitled to consider the real-world differences between political parties and interest groups" in subjecting the parties to more extensive regulation." The opinion also upheld a limitation on soft-money contributions to state party committees on the ground that it was a practical necessity to prevent circumvention of the national party limits.
The McCain-Feingold law prohibits the national political parties and their committees from accepting or spending "soft money," and prohibits candidates from soliciting soft money. "Soft money" is the large, unlimited contributions that corporations, labor unions, and individuals contribute to political parties.
The law also limits "electioneering communications," which are television advertisements that refer to specific candidates for federal office and that are broadcast in within 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election. The law prohibits corporations and labor unions from paying for such advertisements from their general treasuries. They can run these ads using money from their political action committees, which themselves are subject to contribution limits.
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