Appeals Court Says Vermont Can Limit Campaign Spending But Returns Case to Lower Court
NEW YORK -- A divided federal appeals court reiterated its
approval of limits in Vermont on how much political
candidates can spend even if they aren't getting public
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said
Wednesday in a 2-1 decision that Vermont has an important
governmental interest in imposing limits to fight "the real
and apparent corruption that accompanies unlimited campaign
Vermont set the limits when it passed in 1977 a
comprehensive campaign finance reform package regulating
contributions, expenditures and disclosures related to
candidates and political organizations in state
Three lawsuits challenged the law's constitutionality,
saying it infringed on First Amendment rights to free
speech and political association.
The appeals court first ruled in the case in August 2002
but withdrew the decision two months later "pending further
In a 98-page decision Wednesday, the court said it found
"constitutionally compelling" the need to prevent the
reality and appearance of corruption. It then sent the case
back to the lower court in Vermont to determine whether the
Legislature might have chosen another type of regulation or
higher limits that would still achieve its goals but would
pose less of a threat to the First Amendment.
In a 149-page dissent, Judge Ralph Winter said the court's
majority had shown great deference to the Vermont
Legislature and to proponents of limits on campaign
"This deference is entirely undeserved," he wrote. "When
campaign finance legislation is considered by those in
power, there is both motive and opportunity to craft rules
that will restrain the political activity of
He predicted campaign spending limits would dramatically
lessen political debate in Vermont.
A lawyer who argued on behalf of the National Voting Rights
Institute in Boston, Brenda Wright, praised the ruling.
"We really view this as a major victory for reform and a
decision that gives reformers an important new tool to deal
with the dominance of money in politics," she said.
She added, however, that conflicting court rulings on
campaign spending limits mean the issue remains
"We all understand that the Supreme Court will have the
last word," she said.
The law put limits of between $200 and $400 on
contributions to candidates by individuals and political
action committees and limits of $2,000 on contributions to
political parties and political action committees.
Groups like Vermont Right-to-Life and state Republicans had
opposed the law, arguing such limits violate the First
Amendment. A lawyer for the groups did not immediately
return a telephone message for comment.
Copyright Â© 2004, The Associated Press
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