Supremes Nix Vermont Campaign $ Limits


Heading off a potential cutback in political ad dollars to broadcasters, the Supreme Court has ruled that Vermont campaign contribution and spending limits, the strictest in the nation, are too strict to pass constitutional muster.

In overturning a federal appeals court, the High Court ruled that the limits on speech and the effective running of campaigns were too severe, even given the established  government interest in preventing corruption that underpins earlier decisions upholding similar, though higher, limits.

In other cases, the court has found that the equation was reversed and that the compelling government interest in battling corruption trumped the speech concern, in part because it has held that the monetary limits "involve little direct restraint" on speech, something campaign finance law opponents take issue with.

In the case of the Vermont limits, however, which never went into effect since they were immediately challenged, the high court found that the limits--$200 per contribution per candidate in the governor's race from either individuals or parties, for example--were "too low and too strict" to survive First Amendment scrutiny.

Lowering the limit does not necessarily lower the risk of corruption, the court said, noting that the limits could prevent challengers from mounting campaigns against incumbents and "magnify the reputation-related or media-related advantages of incumbency.'" Or, put another way, if you limited the campaign spending of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Joe Blow to the same amount, it would hardly level the playing field at election time.

In short, said the court, the limits represent "substantial restrictions on the ability of candidates to raise the funds necessary to run a competitive election, on the ability of political parties to help their candidates get elected, and on the ability of individual citizens to volunteer..."