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Vermont AG Issues Opinion On New Campaign Finance Law

American flag with cash
Steve Johnson/Flickr

Vermont’s Attorney General has issued an opinion following confusion over the implementation start of new campaign finance law.

Vermont's new campaign finance law, Act 90, contained a drafting error that made it appear there was a gap between the date the old limits expire and when the new limits take effect. The Secretary of State's office had asked for the clarification on whether limits on contributions are in effect for the 2014 election. Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell issued his formal opinion Tuesday. He determined that the state's current contribution limits will remain the same through the end of the year. Sorrell says he reviewed documents and tapes from the Legislature’s deliberations.  “There was just a clerical error in drafting that left a gap in time after the repeal of the current law and the effective date of the new law. Although courts typically will look at plain wording of a statute to try to determine legislative intent in what the statute means, in the case where there is an acknowledged clerical drafting error, courts will look to other evidence as to what the legislature intended. So we’re suggesting that a court looking at this will come to the conclusion that in fact there are rules for this election cycle and they are preexisting rules.”

Vermont Public Interest Research Group Executive Director Paul Burns says the legislature passed a new campaign finance law that left this year’s elections with potentially no limits.  Burns says while the attorney general has issued a determination, there is still a potential for lawsuits.  “There was already a gray area in terms of what the campaign finance law said for Vermont candidates running for office and this made that area of law even murkier. It put the Attorney General in a  rather difficult spot.”

Vermont Republican Party Political Director Brent Burns is relieved there has been clarification for candidates who were asking questions. “I don’t think it would deter anybody from a run at all. People were asking questions about the timeline of when the law went into effect. And so we were obviously waiting on the Attorney General’s opinion on that. So now that it’s out, we know what to comply with and know what each candidate can and cannot do. So it’s good.”

The money matters were cleared up just after Stowe Representative Heidi Scheuermann decided to run for re-election, not governor. In late March she began exploring a possible challenge to incumbent Democrat Peter Shumlin, but announced Tuesday that “..it’s not the right time...” Brent Burns is disappointed but echoes that sentiment.  “She would have been a good candidate. But there are other people out there who are considering a run. I just got another email today about another potential governor candidate. (Is this a situation where you may have a primary?)  I’m hoping for a primary. I think primaries bring out the best in candidates. They’re good for a state party. June 12th is the filing deadline, so that’s when everything will be decided.”

Bear Stearns founder and activist Bruce Lisman, businessman Scot Milne and 2012 gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock are surfacing among pundits as potential Republican candidates.

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