Yesterday the Vermont House of Representatives moved the State one step closer to imposing contribution limits on independent-expenditure only committees, more commonly known as Super PACs.
As we reported here, the Senate has passed a bill (S. 82) that would limit contributions to Super PACs to $3,000, but only if the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit holds in Vermont Right to Life Committee, Inc. v. Sorrell that such contributions are constitutional. The House voted yesterday in favor of an amended version of the bill that would raise the limit to $5,000, regardless of how the litigation turns out. The bill in its amended form now returns to the Senate.
Even though the Senate and House share the sense that contributions to Super PACs should be limited, whether the restriction’s implementation is tied to the outcome of the pending litigation may well be a major sticking point. Both chambers of the state legislature recognize that the proposal is constitutionally dubious in the wake of Citizens United, SpeechNow.org, and other court decisions that have invalidated contribution limits as applied to Super PACs. The difference is that, in the absence of a favorable ruling by the Second Circuit in Vermont Right to Life, the Senate would rather avoid the high price tag of defending the law in court, while the House is willing to spend millions of public dollars.
For now, Governor Shumlin favors the House version and the inevitable trip to federal court that would come with it. But first the Senate and House will need to figure out how aggressively they want to regulate Super PAC contributions. And they’ll need to do it quickly since the legislative session appears to be drawing to a close as soon as this weekend. Check back for more updates on this fast-moving issue.