July 7, 2014 •

Super PAC Not Independent Enough to Escape Contribution Limits

On Wednesday, July 2, a federal appeals court affirmed the judgment of a district court; independent expenditure committees can lose the right to make unlimited expenditures in certain circumstances. In Vermont Right to Life v. Sorrell , the U.S. Court […]

On Wednesday, July 2, a federal appeals court affirmed the judgment of a district court; independent expenditure committees can lose the right to make unlimited expenditures in certain circumstances.

Vermont state sealIn Vermont Right to Life v. Sorrell , the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled a state-level super PAC was not functionally distinct enough from a sister committee actively contributing to candidates and parties. Whether a group is functionally distinct from a non-independent-expenditure-only entity depends on factors including, but not limited to, the overlap of staff and resources, the lack of financial independence, the coordination of activities, and the flow of information between the entities.

Creating two committees and managing two separate bank accounts is not sufficient to prove the committees’ funds are actually treated as separate. To alleviate the danger of quid pro quo corruption, contribution limits may apply to super PACs when they are not functionally distinguishable from committees directly contributing or coordinating expenditures with campaigns.

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June 24, 2014 •

Vermont Lobbying Law Changes Effective July 1

House Bill 735, signed by the governor on June 16, 2014, made changes to the lobbyist fee structure. Effective July 1, 2014, the initial registration fee for lobbyists and lobbyist employers will increase from $25 to $60. The employer fee […]

Flag of VermontHouse Bill 735, signed by the governor on June 16, 2014, made changes to the lobbyist fee structure. Effective July 1, 2014, the initial registration fee for lobbyists and lobbyist employers will increase from $25 to $60. The employer fee for each additional lobbyist will increase from $5 to $15. The lobbyist fee for each additional employer will also increase from $5 to $15.

Senate Bill 86 was amended this year to include additional changes to the state’s lobbying law. Effective July 1, 2014, the Secretary of State’s Office will no longer mail disclosure forms to lobbyists and employers. Forms will be made available on the website no later than 30 days prior to the deadline.

Additionally, contracts with legislators or administrative officials are no longer treated as a type of expenditure and will be reported on their own line on the form.

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May 20, 2014 •

Vermont Attorney General Issues Additional Guidance on Contributions

The Vermont attorney general has issued guidance regarding the state’s contribution limits effective through the end of the year. His guidance interprets the $1,000 per election limit as meaning a candidate may accept a total of $2,000 for the 2013-2014 […]

Flag of VermontThe Vermont attorney general has issued guidance regarding the state’s contribution limits effective through the end of the year. His guidance interprets the $1,000 per election limit as meaning a candidate may accept a total of $2,000 for the 2013-2014 election cycle, even if the candidate does not face a primary contest. Candidates who lose their primary election may also accept the full $2,000. This guidance is effective for contribution limits only through the end of the year, as Vermont’s new contribution limits effective January 1, 2015 are per two-year election cycle rather than per election.

The full text of the attorney general’s guidance is here.

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May 15, 2014 •

Vermont Attorney General Officially Corrects Legislature’s Campaign Finance Error

Attorney General William Sorrell issued a formal opinion confirming the state’s current contribution limits will remain in effect through the 2014 elections. Early in the legislative session, Vermont enacted Senate Bill 82, repealing the existing campaign finance law upon passage […]

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Attorney General William Sorrell issued a formal opinion confirming the state’s current contribution limits will remain in effect through the 2014 elections. Early in the legislative session, Vermont enacted Senate Bill 82, repealing the existing campaign finance law upon passage and establishing new contribution limits to take effect January 1, 2015.

The bill contained a drafting error, however, repealing the existing limits without anything in their place before the new limits take effect in 2015. The House attempted to correct the error through an additional bill, but it was never acted upon by the Senate Finance Committee.

While the Elections Division issued a statement confirming the old limits still applied, Secretary of State Jim Condos requested a formal opinion from the state’s attorney general since his office lacked statutory authority to enforce the old limits.

Relying on legislative deliberations on Senate Bill 82, Sorrell ruled the Legislature did not intend to repeal existing limits for the 2014 election cycle, and the existing limits at the time of the bill’s passage will be enforced until the new limits take effect next year.

 

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February 19, 2014 •

Vermont May Establish Ethics Commission

Vermont may soon move off the list of states without an independent ethics commission if new legislation passes this spring. House Bill 846 establishes the Vermont Ethics Commission, tasked with investigating complaints relating to breaches of legislative ethics law. The […]

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Vermont may soon move off the list of states without an independent ethics commission if new legislation passes this spring.

House Bill 846 establishes the Vermont Ethics Commission, tasked with investigating complaints relating to breaches of legislative ethics law.

The bill also includes revolving door provisions and ethics guidelines for legislators and executive branch employees.

 

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February 10, 2014 •

Vermont Campaign Finance Bill Contains Significant Drafting Error

A drafting error in the state’s new campaign finance law left Vermont temporarily without contribution limits. The new limits are set to take effect on January 1, 2015, but the bill repealed the entire existing law effective upon the governor’s […]

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A drafting error in the state’s new campaign finance law left Vermont temporarily without contribution limits. The new limits are set to take effect on January 1, 2015, but the bill repealed the entire existing law effective upon the governor’s signature.

Although the repealed statutory limits had been invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006, the law reverted to the limits prior to the unconstitutional amendment. The prior contribution limits will remain in effect until the new limits begin in 2015, according to a statement on the Elections Division website.

 

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January 24, 2014 •

Vermont Enacts New Contribution Limits

  Vermont has passed comprehensive campaign finance reform early in the second year of its biennial session. Senate Bill 82, signed by Governor Peter Shumlin on January 23, repealed Vermont’s existing campaign finance law and enacted a new framework in […]

 

Flag of VermontVermont has passed comprehensive campaign finance reform early in the second year of its biennial session. Senate Bill 82, signed by Governor Peter Shumlin on January 23, repealed Vermont’s existing campaign finance law and enacted a new framework in its place. The most notable provision of the bill is new campaign finance limits. The new limits, effective January 1, 2015 are as follows:

  • Candidates for the office of state representative: $1,000 per election cycle from a single source or political committee;
  • Candidates for the office of state senator: $1,500 per election cycle from a single source or political committee;
  • Candidates for the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, auditor of accounts, or attorney general: $4,000 per election cycle from a single source or political committee;
  • Candidates for candidates for local office: $1,000 per election cycle from a single source or political committee;
  • Candidates for county office: $1,500 per election cycle from a single source or political committee;
  • Contributions to a political committee: $4,000 per election cycle from a single source, political committee, or political party; and
  • Contributions to political parties: $10,000 per election cycle from a single source, political committee, or political party.

Critics of the bill noted the high limit on contributions to political parties, notable because political parties may give unlimited contributions to candidates under the new framework. The bill also included an aggregate election cycle limit of $40,000 from a single source to take effect January 1, 2015, unless the U.S. Supreme Court holds such limits unconstitutional when it delivers its decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.

 

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May 15, 2013 •

Vermont Legislature Adjourns After Passing State Budget

Campaign finance reform will wait until next session

Vermont State HouseThe Legislature adjourned late Tuesday, May 14, 2013, after passing a $1.4 billion budget bill.

Other hallmark legislation of the session included decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, assisted suicide, and driver’s licenses for migrant workers, but the legislature failed to pass a major campaign finance reform bill.

Supporters of campaign finance reform vowed to revisit the issue in January 2014.

Photo of Vermont State House by Decumanus on Wikipedia.

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January 28, 2013 •

Potential Vermont Legislation May Increase PAC Disclosures

Bill may also increase filing frequency

Vermont State HouseRepresentative Kurt Wright announced his intention to introduce campaign finance legislation that will enhance disclosures in an election year. Wright and 10 other legislators are working on legislation that would require campaign finance reports to be filed monthly after January 15 in an election year, and increase filing to biweekly leading up to a primary or general election.

Currently, filings are due monthly after July 15.

The bill will also contain provisions related to donor disclosure, requiring PACs to disclose a top contributor if he or she provides more than half of all contributions in a six-month period, and super PACs to disclose their top three donors if their combined contributions account for more than half of contributions received.

Photo of Vermont State House by Jared C. Benedict on Wikipedia.

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July 26, 2012 •

Vermont Attorney General Clarifies Independent Expenditure PAC Contribution Limits

PACs that demonstrate making only independent expenditures not subject to limits

Attorney General William SorrellAttorney General William Sorrell has issued a statement that his office will not enforce the $2,000 contribution limit on PACs that only make independent expenditures. The statement comes after a request for clarification from Secretary of State Jim Condos regarding the federal court decision in Vermont Right to Life Committee (VRLC) v. Sorrell.

While the opinion in VRLC v. Sorrell upheld the contribution limit as applied to VRLC’s independent expenditure committee, the ruling was based on the lack of safeguards to ensure that unlimited contributions to VRLC’s independent expenditure committee did not flow into VRLC’s candidate contribution funds.

Attorney General Sorrell stressed that if investigation reveals a PAC’s activities are not conducted entirely independently of candidates, as in VRLC v. Sorrell, it will continue to be subject to the contribution limits.

Photo of Attorney General William Sorrell by Overton2002 on Wikipedia.

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July 12, 2012 •

Vermont Campaign Finance Database Two Years Away

Secretary of State hopes to have a searchable database ready for the 2014 elections

Flag of VermontIt will be two more years before Vermont’s campaign finance reports are available in a searchable database, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Currently, Vermont offers scanned copies of campaign finance reports online, but there is no easy way to search for donor names or contribution totals, and handwriting on the forms may be difficult to read. The secretary of state hoped that such a database would be available for the 2014 elections, but is unable to give a precise timetable or detailed costs.

Common Cause Vermont recently compiled its own searchable database for the 2010 state elections.

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June 25, 2012 •

Federal Judge Upholds Vermont Contribution Limits on PACs

Vermont Right to Life Committee plans to appeal

Seal of VermontA federal judge has upheld Vermont’s contribution limits on political action committees. Vermont Right to Life Committee (VRLC) and its related political committee, Vermont Right to Life Committee – Fund for Independent Political Expenditures (FIPE), filed suit alleging that Vermont’s registration, reporting, and disclosure requirements for PACs are too broad and unconstitutional, and that FIPE should not be subject to the $2,000 limit on PAC contributions because it only makes independent expenditures.

The judge rejected FIPE’s claim that it should not be subject to the contribution limits on the basis that there is a “fluidity of funds” between FIPE and VRLC that provides no safeguard against unlimited contributions being used to fund candidate contributions.

Secretary of State Jim Condos applauded the ruling; however, the opinion makes clear that the decision to uphold the $2,000 contribution limit weighed heavily on the facts of the case, in particular the lack of separation between FIPE and VRLC. VRLC plans to appeal the ruling.

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May 2, 2012 •

Here is the Latest Redistricting News

Today we have items from eight states:

U.S. Congressional DistrictsAlaska: “Redistricting map solutions elusive as court battle looms” by Richard Mauer in the Anchorage Daily News.

Kansas: “Kansas Senate OKs redistricting plan” by Brad Cooper in the Kansas City Star.

Kentucky: “Kentucky Supreme Court cites redistricting law as unconstitutional” by Franklin Clark in the Cadiz Record.

Mississippi: “Mississippi Senate unveils its redistricting map” by The Associated Press in the Clarion Ledger.

New Hampshire: “House redistricting plan faces more legal challenges” by Garry Rayno in the Union Leader.

Pennsylvania: “Redistricting panel to receive input on new Pa. maps” by Ali Lanyon (Associated Press) on WHTM.

South Carolina: “Supreme Court considering fate of primary candidates” by Gina Smith in The State.

South Carolina: “SC justices consider fate of dozens of candidates” by Jeffrey Collins (Associated Press) in the Spartanburg Herald Journal.

Vermont: “Vt. lawmakers finish redistricting” on NECN.com.

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March 8, 2012 •

Vermont Voters Call for Amendment Concerning Corporate Personhood

Measure the Result of Citizens United Decision

Flag of VermontCitizens in 53 communities approved a measure on Vermont’s Town Meeting Day, coinciding with Super Tuesday, calling on the United States Congress to begin the process of amending the Constitution in order to clarify that corporations do not share the same rights as natural persons possess.

The push for such a measure is a result of the decision of the United States Supreme Court in the Citizen’s United case.

Bernie Sanders, U.S. Senator from Vermont, introduced such an amendment in December and appreciated support by his constituents for his efforts, noting “Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, Town Meeting Day voters understood that corporations are not people.”

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