Campaign finance proposal knocked
By Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Press Bureau | January 31,2013
MONTPELIER — Progressives and independents are balking at a proposal from Democrats that aims to intensify the financial firepower of political parties.
Jake Perkinson, chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party, said Tuesday he’ll ask lawmakers this year to raise limits on contributions to political parties, from $2,000 over two years to as much as $20,000.
In an election landscape where super PACs can now accept unlimited contributions from individual donors, Perkinson said, parties risk irrelevance if state lawmakers don’t level the playing field.
“I do think the playing field needs to be evened out as much as it can be so parties have resources to counteract super PACs,” he said.
Robert Millar, executive director of the Vermont Progressive Party, said Wednesday that if parties are serious about mitigating the role of money in politics, then they shouldn’t open yet another floodgate.
“Anything that has the potential to increase the amounts of money going into politics we would be concerned about,” he said.
Millar said parties are different from super PACs. While federal law requires super PACs to operate independently of the candidates on whose behalf they’re working, parties are permitted to coordinate with office seekers.
That ability to coordinate, Millar said, opens the door to the quid-pro-quo corruption that contribution limits seek to prevent.
“Increasing limits on giving to political parties creates a potential back door around limits on contributions directly to candidates themselves,” Millar said. “You just give the money to the party instead, but it could have the same effect of a contribution to a candidate.”
Rep. Paul Poirier, a Barre independent, said people without a party affiliation already suffer overwhelming disadvantage. Enacting laws to bolster the power of official parties, Poirier said, would make it virtually impossible for independents to launch viable candidacies.
Poirier said he experienced that disadvantage when the Republican super PAC Vermonters First paid for attacks on the incumbents in his two-seat district. His Democratic seatmate, Rep. Tess Taylor, benefited from a counterattack funded by the Vermont Democratic Party.
“I can tell you they didn’t do the same for me,” Poirier said. “You start giving parties the power to raise money, and you’re going to make it much more difficult for independents and Progressives, who won’t take the corporate money. It’s funny to see Democrats condemn these super PACs, then watch them try to do the same thing.”
Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said the $20,000 figure thrown out by Perkinson may be high. But he said the $2,000 limit might not make sense anymore given the rising cost of the elections business.
House Minority Leader Don Turner said he supports Perkinson’s proposal.
“It is a changed landscape, and I can understand a certain rationale for wanting to give the political parties access to more resources,” Burns said.
Burns, Millar and Perkinson agree on one point: that the court ruling that gave birth to super PACs should be overturned by a new court or the Constitution amended to re-establish limits on giving.