LIBERTARIAN CHAIR PREDICTS CAMPAIGN FINANCE LAW WILL NOT STAND
— VTLP Representatives Attend Historic Supreme Court Hearing —
March 2, 2006
On Tuesday, the Chair and Treasurer of the Vermont Libertarian Party
(VTLP) sat in the gallery of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. to hear the challenge to Vermont’s controversial campaign finance law. The VTLP is one of several participants in the suit challenging the law. At the end of the proceedings, Chair Hardy Machia predicted that the law will not survive the scrutiny of the justices.
“All the Justices seemed opposed to spending caps, and most of them seemed opposed to the extremely small limits on contributions. It was clear that many of the justices have serious reservations about the law,” said Machia after attending the hearing in Washington. “The law is not going to survive their scrutiny and parts, if not all, of the law will certainly be struck down.”
During the proceedings, contribution limits were scrutinized by Justices Scalia and Alito who questioned as to whether limitations on contributions in turn limited a candidate’s expenditures. In addition, all of the justices voiced concerns that the limits were so low that “a box of doughnuts and some coffee” for campaign workers could violate the law. Finally, Machia noted that each justice alluded to the issue as one of speech protected by the first amendment.
While some states limit the amount that individuals can donate to a political campaign, the Vermont law placed low and strict restrictions on individual donations. No individual can donate more than $400 to any statewide candidate and no more than $2,000 to any political party. Vermont became the first state in the country to limit the amount a candidate can spend on a race, ranging from $300,000 for governor to a low of $2,000 for state representative.
Machia listened closely to the defense of the law by Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell. “I was surprised when Sorrell inferred that Vermont needs such harsh campaign restrictions because our elections are somehow corrupt.” Yet when pressed by the justices on this point, Sorrell said that to date, there have not been any prosecuted cases of corruption.
Since the law passed in 1997, the Vermont Libertarian Party has maintained that the state should not prevent any Vermonter, individually or collectively, from supporting the parties and candidates of their choice to the extent that they wish. The law requires that political parties and political candidates collect their revenues only in the form of small, limited donations from individual sources.
“Such a requirement gives an unfair advantage to the major, established, parties who already have a broad base of existing donors, and discriminates against minor party challengers,” said Machia. “It effectively stifles the efforts of the underdog to get their message out to the people. I’m optimistic the court will side with libertarians and uphold our right to freedom of political speech.”