MONTPELIER — The Senate has given its approval to a bill intended to make publicly financed political campaigns more viable.
By a vote of 19 to 6, Senate lawmakers Friday approved S.220, a bill that moves up the date a candidate seeking public financing can start a campaign, which supporters say will allow these candidates to better compete with those who are privately financed.
“My feeling is, we shouldn’t privilege publicly financed candidates, but we shouldn’t punish them, either,” said Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, the lead sponsor of the bill.
The punishment Baruth is referring to is the amount of lead time a privately financed candidate has over one seeking public financing.
While a privately funded candidate may declare his or her intent to run for office and begin raising money at any time, a candidate seeking public financing must wait until the Feb. 15 before the November election.
“It takes away the selective advantage of someone who says, I’ll run and have a six-month head start on someone who is gong to use public campaign financing,” Zuckerman said of the bill. “The main goal for me, because this doesn’t apply to my campaign, is to make publicly financed campaigns a viable option.”
Earlier this month, The U.S. District Court of Vermont rejected a case brought by Zuckerman and Dean Corren, a Progressive who ran for lieutenant governor in 2014, against the state’s public campaign finance law, with the court rulings the law does not violate First Amendment rights.
The decision meant that Zuckerman, who declared in November, could not receive public campaign financing.
The bill approved by the Senate will allow a candidate who is seeking public financing to enter a race as early as Nov. 1, provided a candidate using private campaign financing has already entered the race.
In Vermont, public campaign financing is available to candidates running for the offices of governor or lieutenant governor. To qualify, a candidate for governor must raise $35,000 — for lieutenant governor, the amount is $17,500 — in contributions of $50 or less.
If they qualify, a gubernatorial candidate will receive $75,000 for the primary race and $225,000 in the general election; a candidates for lieutenant governor will receive $25,000 for the primary and $75,000 for the general election.
Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex/Orleans — who was one of the six senators to vote against the bill — said qualifying for public campaign financing should be difficult.
“When you are using public dollars, the bar should be a bit a bit higher,” Rodgers said. “I am worried about taxpayers and making it easier to access public financing.”
Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, said that while he does not support the idea of public campaign financing, he supported the bill.
“This is basic fairness,” Benning said.