Democratic candidate Matt Dunne

Matt Dunne is a former Vermont State House Representative and State Senator. He served as the Director of the AmeriCorps*VISTA under both the Clinton and Bush administrations. Dunne plans to run for Governor in Vermont this November. On February 15th, he spoke with State of Elections about how Vermont may be affected by the decision in Citizens United.

Vermont, like many other states, may soon see the effects of the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC. Currently, the Vermont legislature is looking at a small number of options to deal with the anticipated changes in corporate election spending during in their fall midterm elections. One option Dunne supports is mandatory disclosure of any corporate expenditure related to supporting a candidate. Ideally, Dunne believes this reporting method should be published “instantaneously, real-time or daily.” The federal government also plans to institute strict reporting methods through recently proposed legislation. With the upcoming elections, Dunne believes Vermont faces a similar time crunch. He urges, “We need to codify standards now.”

While it is not possible to enforce a blanket limit on corporate election spending because of the high court’s decision, it remains possible to impose limitations on corporations that receive government funding. The newly proposed federal legislation includes such restrictions for corporations that receive funding and contracts from the federal government. The issue for Vermont would be to determine how much state funding or support is enough to deny a corporation the ability to spend on candidates. Vermont is likely to enact such legislation, but determining where the line should be drawn is still up in the air. Dunne believes in imposing a  strict limitation. “The line should be closer to any funding from the state,” he says. This would also be similar to the newly proposed federal legislation, which would not allow any corporation who has taken bailout any money or received federal contracts to spend on elections.

A hot topic issue in Vermont politics recently has been how to deal with Louisiana based power company, Entergy. Entergy owns Vermont Yankee, a depreciated nuclear plant that recently was found to be leaking radioactive material. The search process to find the leak is slow and has many locals, including Dunne, extremely concerned. “They have a history of walking away from problems,” says Dunne, referring to misleading statements made to state officials about the leak. Their license by the NRC is under review and the state has the capacity to shut down the plant by 2012. This history sets up a dynamic in which the Citizens United riling will truly be tested. Will Entergy’s financial support of candidates in the upcoming election affect electoral outcomes? The race for governor this fall is an example of one election in which Citizens United could have great impact.

While some candidates are opposed, at least one of the candidates is in support of extending Vermont Yankee’s license by the State. A large corporation like Entergy could potentially have a strong effect on a campaign race in a smaller state like Vermont and Dunne believes they may take advantage of the newly lifted bans. “There is a huge incentive for Entergy to become involved [in the gubernatorial election],” says Dunne, “Limits must be put into place now so Vermonters’ voice is not drowned out by corporate interests in this election.”

To be most effective, measures would need to be in place sooner rather than later. Dunne reasons that if a conflict were to arise after the polls close concerning an ambiguous issue in light of Citizens United, it may be very difficult for the Vermont Supreme Court to overturn an election result. Should the legislature come to an agreement on terms it would not take long for the measures to pass. Additions could be made to a campaign finance bill the Vermont Senate passed in 2009.  With such an important election cycle coming this fall, Vermont may be one of the first states to enact new campaign finance legislation.  In Dunne’s opinion, “When sweeping changes are made in election laws by the Supreme Court, the Vermont legislature should act to protect the interests of voters in this state.”

Alex Grout is an editor for State of Elections and a student at William and Mary Law School

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