So a federal judge has upheld the constitutionality of Vermont’s public financing law. Too bad he couldn’t rule on the ridiculousness of the law, because that decision would have gone very differently.
In the wake of his ruling, two things have to be addressed ASAP. First, the absurdly punitive $72,000 fine imposed on Dean Corren for a piddly-ass technical violation of the law. Imposed by that self-righteous hypocrite, Our Eternal General Bill Sorrell.
There is no way in Hell that Corren should have to imperil his personal finances because the Democratic Party included him in an e-mail message. The value of that “impermissible contribution”? $255, if I remember correctly.
Fining a guy $72,000 for what was, at most, a petty violation is like sending a guy to jail for not feeding the parking meter. It mocks the very concept of justice.
Okay, that’s number one, and I don’t care how we do it. If it involves a sock full of quarters applied to Sorrell’s noggin and a bit of backroom “persuasion,” so be it. Well, maybe the Darn Tough Convincer is a bit much; let’s just tase him. (He shouldn’t mind; given his record on police brutality cases, he must think getting tased is no big deal.)
The second issue is the public financing law itself. It’s a joke. It’s so restrictive that it seems designed to prevent candidates from using it.
Look: Candidates have to wait until mid-February to launch campaigns. Once they launch, they have to round up a lot of small contributions from every part of the state in a small amount of time.
And then, if they qualify, they get kinda-sorta enough money to compete. And they have to be so careful about violating the “impermissible contribution” standards that it’s basically like tiptoeing through a minefield.
Here’s the real question. Do we seriously want a public financing system that works? Do we want a system that encourages underfunded candidates, and helps balance the scales against big-money politics?
If we do, then the law needs a complete rewrite. Increase the available funds. Make it easier to qualify. Clarify the restrictions on contributions or outside help, and the penalties for violating the terms.
Otherwise, we might as well not offer public financing at all.
You want my sneaking suspicion? I don’t think legislative Democrats want a fairer system. After all, the primary beneficiaries are likely to be (a) Progressives or (b) outsider candidates. The Dems have the best of the current system — at least until the outside Republican money gets to be overwhelming.
It’s too late to reform public financing in this session. But in 2017, let’s see a serious reform bill — or let’s just repeal the current mess and stop pretending we care.