Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Vermont's Attorney General: I’m clueless, and I’ll prove it.
Vermont Campaign Limits Get Cool Reception at Court

…Vermont's aggressive effort to drive much private money out of politics, through a law it enacted in 1997 that set tight limits on both contributions and expenditures, appeared unlikely to withstand the court's scrutiny after an argument that included a low-key but withering cross-examination by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. of Vermont's attorney general, William H. Sorrell.

The chief justice challenged the attorney general's assertion that money was a corrupting influence on Vermont's political system, the state's main rationale for its law. "How many prosecutions for political corruption have you brought?" he asked the state official.

"Not any," Mr. Sorrell replied.

"Do you think corruption in Vermont is a serious problem?"

"It is," the attorney general replied, noting that polls showed that most state residents thought corporations and wealthy individuals exerted an undue influence in the state.

The chief justice persisted. "Would you describe your state as clean or corrupt?" he asked.

"We have got a problem in Vermont," Mr. Sorrell repeated.

The chief justice pressed further. If voters think "someone has been bought," he said, "I assume they act accordingly" at the next election and throw the incumbent out.

He also challenged a line from the attorney general's 50-page brief, an assertion that donations from special-interest groups "often determine what positions candidates and officials take on issues." Could the attorney general provide an example of such an issue, Chief Justice Roberts asked. Mr. Sorrell could not, eventually conceding that "influence" would have been a better word than "determine."

By the end of the argument, it appeared clear that Vermont's spending limits would fall, and that its contribution limits, the lowest in the country, were hanging by a thread.

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