"You win some, you lose some, but that was one I felt a little more than most," said Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Vt. Senate Majority Leader.
One day after the Vermont Senate voted not to ban corporate donations in state races, its majority leader is still stunned. Baruth says he saw the potential ban as a necessary response to 2010's Supreme Court case prohibiting limitations on corporate political spending.
"I'm someone who believes to the extent you can, you want to have natural born persons re-elevated to a position above the corporations," Baruth said.
Initially, the majority of Baruth's colleagues appeared to agree, voting 24-3 in favor of the bill April 12. But Thursday, more than a dozen-- including Senate Pro Tem John Campbell-- voted to remove the ban after previously supporting it.
"It was almost looking for a problem," said Campbell, D-Vt. President Pro Tem. "What happens in D.C. is not Vermont and they were concerned that they would be shutting out their neighbors."
Campbell says there's no proof a legislator's vote has ever been bought in Vermont. He says allowing businesses to contribute directly increases transparency over opaque super PAC dollars, and says several senators reconsidered their positions as they learned more about the subject.
A year earlier, legislators from both houses agreed to a resolution opposing the controversial ruling in Citizens United.
"It's apples and oranges really," Campbell said. "There were certain senators that thought this would make a nice headline, and evidently it has."
"You know what's interesting is that federal law forbids corporations from making direct contributions to candidates, but the law that's now before the Legislature in some ways allows for more corporate influence directly on candidates," said Cheryl Hanna of the Vermont Law School.
Hanna says political campaigns in Vermont have become more expensive in the last few years and small business donations are crucial to re-election. She says the proposal would add transparency, but worries allowing business owners to donate personally and through their business gives those individuals more sway than a typical person. Hanna says though political corruption has not been a problem, appearances could be.
"Don't forget, what we're concerned about is not just actual corruption, but the appearance of corruption and the sense that average citizens are increasingly disenfranchised from the democratic process," Hanna said.
The bill will be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration. Vt. House Speaker Shap Smith says he agreed with removal of the corporate ban, but the language could re-emerge as the debate unfolds in the neighboring chamber.