Push to get anonymous money out of Vt. politics - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Push to get anonymous money out of Vt. politics

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A group of eight Democrats and independents gathered on Burlington's City Hall steps Tuesday to voice concern about super PAC spending.

"Just because they were ineffective last time doesn't mean they're going to go away," Andrew Savage said.

Super PACs are political action committees comprised of usually a small number of very wealthy donors, who target specific candidates or causes primarily through commercial advertising. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, they can make unlimited campaign contributions to any candidate, so long as they don't directly communicate with that candidate. This year, both Attorney General Bill Sorrell and the defeated Republican candidate for treasurer, Wendy Wilton, were supported by super PACs. Political Analyst Eric Davis says it likely changed the Democratic primary election for attorney general.

"I wonder whether T.J. Donovan might have won that primary had it not been for the roughly $200,000 spent by the Committee on Justice and Freedom spent on behalf of Bill Sorrell," Davis said.

Currently, super PACs have to file campaign finance reports like most candidates do-- once each month after July of an election year and only once during the off years before the next election.

Paul Burns of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group is one of many who want a lot more disclosure.

"Somebody who gives more than 50 percent of the super PAC's resources should actually appear in that ad and take responsibility for it in the same way candidates are often required to appear in their ad," Burns said.

That's just one way Burns hopes to make super PACs more transparent. Burns, the Democrats gathered in Burlington and Secretary of State Jim Condos are asking the Legislature to pass a law increasing reporting requirements to the state of Vermont. They also want an online database run by the state that makes all this information readily available throughout the election process.

"I'd like to ban super PACs, but our goal, we'd like to reduce the influence of large donors and big money in elections generally," Burns said.

Davis says they're likely to succeed in passing a bill.

"If the focus can be on disclosure, frequency of disclosure and comprehensiveness of disclosure then I think a bill could be passed by the end of the session," Davis said.

Davis also predicts super PAC disclosures will lead the press to a wealth of campaign financing stories, which means one thing is certain: regardless of this proposed legislation this will not be the last you hear about the impact of super PACs.

Advocates for the bill are confident they have the necessary support from both the House and Senate to pass legislation.

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