Vermont Public Interest Research Group executive director Paul Burns
Vermont senators have revived a long-stalled effort to limit corporate cash in state elections. Last week, the Senate Government Operations Committee advanced a bill that would prohibit corporations from donating directly to candidates, clearing the way for a vote before the full Senate this week.
“It’s a significant step to try to at least address the issue of corporations having direct influence over candidates,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which has long pushed for such a measure.
The federal government has prohibited corporations from contributing directly to candidates since 1907, and more than 20 states have enacted such bans. But Vermont politicians had been reluctant to follow suit. In 2013, the Vermont Senate voted to impose a ban, only to reverse its decision days later.
Since then, "I think there has been more and more concern about money in campaigns," said Senate Government Operations chair Jeanette White (D-Windham). To avoid confusion about the definition of a corporation, the bill would simply prohibit donations from anyone other than an individual, a state party or a political action committee.
No one is under the illusion that the legislation, S.120, would purge corporate cash from the political process. While corporations wouldn't be able to write checks directly to candidates, they could still indirectly make contributions through PACs.
Sen. Chris Pearson (P/D-Chittenden), a proponent of the bill, said it would at least prevent "double dipping" — the tactic of contributing the maximum amount as an individual, and then giving the maximum amount again, but through a business entity.
The 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United, which ruled that corporations have a right to political speech, makes further restrictions on corporate contributions unlikely.