Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, wants the Vermont Legislature to respond to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that declares there are no limits on campaign spending by corporations and unions as long as they aren’t coordinating their efforts with candidates.
“This latest Supreme Court decision is one of the worst decisions for election and democracy in the history of the court,” Shumlin said. “The question is, what can Vermont do to mitigate as much as possible the buying of elections by corporations.”
Shumlin, Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, and Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, have a bill in the works that would give the public real-time information about organizations, corporations and unions that spend money on campaign ads. The Senate Judiciary Committee began working on the bill last week and takes it up again Thursday.
The early draft proposes to increase penalties for campaign finance violations and set requirements to help the public identify who is paying for independent campaign communications.
The sponsors also want the state to set up a Web site where the public could review the disclosure information the bill would require.
Sears, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said he’s trying to make sure the bill is as lawsuit-proof as possible. Campaign finance legislation has a tendency to end up in court.
The Judiciary Committee worked on a draft last week with advice from Cheryl Hanna, Vermont law school professor with expertise in constitutional law and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hanna noted that the draft proposed raising the fine for campaign violations from $1,000 to $100,000 and the jail time from six months to five years. “Do any other states have penalties that are so high?”
Penalties or other provisions that are extreme could draw unwanted court attention, Hanna suggested. She noted other potential pitfalls in the first draft — giving corporations or union just 12 hours to notify candidates when expenditures of more than $200 are made.
“An argument could be made that $200 is too low,” Hanna said. “And 24 hours seems to be the standard of the day,” she said of notification requirements.
The bill proposed that independently financed radio ads would need to identify who paid for them every five seconds.
“I suspect the court would look skeptically on the requirement of every five seconds,” Hanna said.
“So would the listeners,” said Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland.
After the Senate Judiciary Committee vets the bill, Senate Government Operations gets it. Shumlin said he wants a full Senate vote by March 12.
— Nancy Remsen
Labels: campaign finance, Cheryl Hanna, Sen Peter Shumlin, Sen. Dick Sears