House committee debates limiting corporate influence in Vermont politics

Anthony Pollina
Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, sponsor of S.120 said campaign finance laws need to be updated continually. File photo by Bob LoCicero/VTDigger

In a packed committee room on Friday, the House Committee on Government Operations heard testimony about a bill to limit the influence of corporations on Vermont politics.

Introduced in 2017 by Sen. Anthony Pollina, P-Washington, and approved by the Senate in March, S.120 amends Vermont’s campaign finance laws to eliminate direct contributions from corporations and partnerships to political candidates or parties. The bill would rewrite Vermont campaign laws to ensure “only an individual, a political committee, or a political party may make a contribution to a candidate or a political party.”

Pollina said in an interview on Friday that Vermont’s campaign finance laws need to be updated continually, to ensure that “the voices of citizens are still heard.”

“Because Vermont is a small state, people believe big money doesn’t have that much influence,” Pollina said, citing expenditures by the beverage industry to oppose the tax on soft drinks as an example of “big corporate” money’s influence in the state.

In its current form, S.120 leaves intact existing limitations on single-source campaign contributions, which are $1,000 for state representatives and local officials, $1,500 for state senators and $4,000 for state officials like the governor and state treasurer. The state also set campaign spending limits in 1997, but the the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the limits unconstitutional in 2006.

“The unfortunate thing is that constitutional decisions have been reached that limit what we can do to get money out of Vermont campaigns,” Rep. John Gannon, D-Windham, said in an interview.

BetsyAnn Wrask, counsel to the Legislature, pointed out to committee members that S.120 does not restrict contributions to political action committees.

“Many of us in the room received scads of…

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