Vermont House passes “another foolish attempt to defy the constitution”

by Robert Maynard

On March 7th an article was posted on this site pointing out that the Vermont House was considering “another foolish attempt to defy the constitution:”

Vermont’s legislature appears poised to throw the advice of a constitutional law scholar from Vermont Law School out the window and pass yet another constitutionally questionable campaign finance law.  This site posted an article about that warning on April 29th:

Vermont’s political leaders have a track record of passing ill-advised legislation that results in costly lawsuits that do not stand up to constitutional scrutiny.  This tendency prompted a Vermont Law School Professor to warn our legislators not to risk another campaign finance court battle, as related in this Vermont Digger article:

Constitutional law scholar Cheryl Hanna urged the House Government Operations committee on Friday to be cautious about instituting new campaign finance reforms.

Hanna, a well-known Vermont Law School professor, advised legislators on how they could best avoid potential lawsuits in light of recent federal court rulings, including a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2007 that threw out Vermont’s attempts to curb campaign spending.

James Bopp, a nationally renowned campaign finance attorney, pointed out the unconstitutionality of this ill-advised move: “It’s perfectly clear that under the law that you cannot cap contributions to Super PACs. … Numerous courts have ruled that it is unconstitutional to limit contributions to them. This is just another foolish attempt by the Vermont Legislature to defy the constitution.”

The House has now moved beyond “considering” such a move and has actually passed a bill:

The House voted 96-49 on Wednesday to reform campaign finance regulations, incorporating a cap on donations to Super PACs and tweaking how much individuals and political parties can donate to candidates for elected office.

The legislation, which caps Super PAC contributions at $5,000, heads back to the Senate, where some senators have expressed more wariness than the House about the cost and fallout from a potential lawsuit.

Let’s hope cooler heads prevail in the Vermont Senate before we end up yet again on the loosing end of a costly lawsuit that Vermont taxpayers will be stuck with the bill for.

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