FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 15, 2005
Brenda Wright and Stuart Comstock-Gay,National Voting Rights Institute, 617 624 3900, ext. 13/ 16
Drew Hudson, VPIRG, 802-223-5221, ext. 4787
WASHINGTON, DC - A broad coalition of United States Senators, state attorneys general, former US Senators Bill Bradley and Alan Simpson, and others filed a series of legal briefs today urging the United States Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of Vermont's limits on campaign spending. The filings set the stage for the nation's highest court to revisit its 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo, which struck down congressional campaign spending limits on First Amendment grounds.
Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that Vermont's mandatory campaign spending limits may be permissible under the First Amendment, based on new facts and compelling governmental interests not addressed in the original Buckley ruling. On May 12, the plaintiffs filed petitions asking the Supreme Court to reverse that ruling. The plaintiffs include the Vermont Right to Life Committee and the Vermont Republican State Committee.
Today, the Vermont Attorney General's office, on behalf of the state of Vermont, together with a coalition of Vermont voters, candidates and public interest groups helping to defend the law, filed their responses to those petitions and joined the plaintiffs in urging the Supreme Court to review the campaign spending limits law.
"The Supreme Court now faces an historic opportunity," says Brenda Wright, managing attorney for the National Voting Rights Institute and lead counsel for the Vermont groups serving as defendant-intervenors. "For nearly three decades since the Buckley ruling, the nation has witnessed the threat posed to our democracy by unlimited campaign spending. The time has come to revisit that ruling based on the new facts and circumstances presented in the Vermont case."
Such a review could result in a landscape change in the way campaigns are financed across the country. Last November, the nation watched the most expensive election cycle in United States history, with overall candidate spending reaching nearly $2 billion dollars. Many of the briefs filed today argue that today's system of unlimited campaign spending undermines the integrity of our elections.
"[T]he accumulated experience of Members of Congress, reinforced by empirical evidence, is that the dominance of money in politics continues to threaten the public's faith in the legitimacy of government and in the elections that choose whom shall govern…," the U.S. Senators say in their brief. The brief is led by U.S. Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
Former U.S. Senators Bill Bradley (D-NJ) and Alan Simpson (R-WY) emphasize in their brief the importance of campaign spending limits for "[p]reserving the time of elected officials from the burdens of constant fundraising…" "The record in the case," the former senators state, "demonstrates that Vermont's campaign expenditure limits serve the compelling government interest of protecting the integrity of our system of representative democracy."
In addition, thirteen states filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take the case so as to provide clarity throughout the country on the question of the constitutionality of campaign spending limits. The brief, led by Connecticut's Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, points out that "legislators are looking at expenditure limitations with renewed interest following the Second Circuit's ruling in this case and are proposing legislation that incorporates such limits." "To the extent that such measures are passed," the brief continues, "the uncertainty surrounding their constitutionality will embroil States in legal challenges and appeals at considerable expense to the public fisc."
The states joining Connecticut in filing this brief include: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
The Second Circuit's August 2004 decision found that Vermont had established two compelling governmental interests justifying its campaign spending limits: "preventing the reality and appearance of corruption and protecting the time of candidates and elected officials." It also ruled, however, that the case should go back to the district court to address the question of "whether there are less restrictive means" for Vermont to achieve these goals.
"The endless chase for dollars is threatening to turn our political campaigns into auctions, and the 2006 elections could be the worst ever," says Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, a party to the case and a primary proponent of the law. "Today, we urge the Supreme Court to take this case and affirm Vermont's right to enact campaign spending limits to protect our democracy."
The Vermont case is the third test case in the past decade to revisit the question of the constitutionality of mandatory campaign spending limits. In 1997, a federal appeals court in Cincinnati struck down such limits in Cincinnati's local elections, and last year, a federal appeals court in Denver struck down such limits in Albuquerque's local elections. The Second Circuit's ruling on Vermont's limits conflicts with those two prior rulings. The Supreme Court often decides to review cases in which the federal appeals courts are divided on a major constitutional question.
The National Voting Rights Institute joined the Vermont Attorney General's office in defending Vermont's campaign spending limits. The Institute represents the coalition of Vermont voters, candidates, and public interest organizations who support the limits, as well as the other provisions of the state's campaign finance reform law. The Institute previously served as defense counsel in the prior two test cases emerging from Cincinnati and Albuquerque.
In addition to the US Senators, former US Senators Bradley and Simpson, and state attorneys general, others submitting friend-of-the-court briefs today urging the Supreme Court to review Vermont's campaign spending limit law include: secretaries of state, elected judges, national civil rights organizations, and national campaign finance reform organizations.
The briefs being filed today will be posted on the NVRI website (www.nvri.org).
The Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision by early October on whether it will review the case.
The National Voting Rights Institute is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that seeks fairness in the electoral process for all, regardless of income. The Boston-based organization pursues its mission through litigation and public education.
With 20,000 members statewide, VPIRG is Vermont's largest environmental and consumer watchdog organization. For more than 30 years, VPIRG has brought the voice of the public to critical public policy debates to help protect Vermont's environment, people and locally based economy.