STATEMENT: Supreme Court Issues Campaign Finance Ruling

Release Date: 
June 26, 2006

WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Supreme Court today announced its decision in Randall v. Sorrell, a case addressing the constitutionality of Vermont's comprehensive campaign finance law, passed in 1997.

Stuart Comstock-Gay, Executive Director of the National Voting Rights Institute, which defended the law alongside the state of Vermont, had this statement on the decision.

"Even while we watch elected officials being marched off to jail for corrupt activities, today's decision gives money an even larger role in elections. The decision marks a lost opportunity to end the arms race for campaign cash and make elections a contest of ideas rather than dollars, but the struggle for reform will continue. The Supreme Court upheld the poll tax twice before it was finally struck down, and today's decision likewise will not stand the test of time."

Paul Burns, Executive Director of Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), which led the fight to enact Vermont's reform law, stated,

"Vermonters spoke out loudly and clearly for reducing the influence of money in politics and the Supreme Court turned a deaf ear. Instead of allowing us to level the playing field, the Justices have pushed average folks to the sidelines and preserved a clear path to power for wealthy donors.

The First Amendment was never intended to give wealthy special interests a stranglehold on elections — but this ruling undermines Vermont citizens and all Americans who are working to protect the integrity of their democracy and participate equally in the political process."

Recent survey research, available at http://archive.demos.org/page422.cfm, shows overwhelming public support — among Republicans, Democrats and independents alike — for limits on campaign spending.

The Court's decision to invalidate Vermont's limits on the size of donations to candidates, as well as the limits on spending, marks a shift by the Court. Long-standing precedent, reaffirmed just six years ago in a Missouri case decided by a six-member majority of the Supreme Court (Nixon v. Shrink Mo. Gov't PAC), has granted broad deference to state legislatures in determining the proper level for limits on contributions. "Only a tiny fraction of Americans can afford large donations to candidates. We will continue fighting for reasonable limits and other reforms that promote access and participation by ordinary citizens in the electoral process, including public financing," said Comstock-Gay.

Vermont's campaign finance law imposed caps on overall candidate spending, provided public financing for some statewide elections, and imposed contribution limits of $200 per election cycle for candidates for state representative, $300 for candidates for state senate, and $400 for gubernatorial candidates.

NVRI will more fully analyze the decision and issue further comments later in the day.

NVRI and VPIRG will hold an open press conference call today at 3:00 pm, to answer questions and discuss the decision. Participating will be NVRI Managing Attorney Brenda Wright, who argued the case before the Court, as well as Paul Burns, Executive Director of VPIRG, and NVRI Executive Director Stuart Comstock-Gay. Call in number is 877.713.2255, Access Code: 4953273.

NVRI and PIRG are part of a coalition of public interest groups helping to defend campaign finance spending limits legislation nationwide, and support other means to reduce the overwhelming impact of money on elections. The following coalition members are available for comment:

-Deborah Goldberg, Director of Democracy Program at Brennan Center for Justice -- (212) 998-6748
The Brennan Center has long been involved with litigation surrounding campaign finance, including both expenditure and contribution limits.

-Nick Nyhart, Executive Director of Public Campaign -- (202) 293-0222
Public Campaign helps to coordinate many efforts across the country to pass public financing of elections.

-Chellie Pingree, President of Common Cause -- (202) 736-5740
Common Cause has been a leader in campaign finance issues for decades.

-Derek Cressman, TheRestofUs.org -- (916) 446-4741
In addition, contact information for experts on campaign finance and constitutional law is as follows:

-Professor Spencer A. Overton, George Washington University Law School -- (301) 502-9703 or (301) 625-7736
Expert on campaign finance and constitutional law.

- Professor Mark C. Alexander, Seton Hall University Law School -- (973) 735-3600
Expert on campaign finance and constitutional law.

About NVRI. The National Voting Rights Institute (www.nvri.org) is a Boston-based, non-partisan, non-profit organization committed to making real the promise of American democracy that meaningful political participation and power should be accessible to all regardless of economic or social status. NVRI represents a number of organizations and individuals defending the constitutionality of the Vermont law.

About VPIRG. The State PIRGs — a national network of nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest advocacy organizations — work to preserve the environment, protect consumers, and promote accountable government. With 20,000 members statewide, Vermont PIRG is Vermont's largest environmental and consumer watchdog organization.

 

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