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The “Brave Little State of Vermont” Can Overcome Citizens United All By Itself

The “Brave Little State of Vermont” Can Overcome Citizens United All By Itself

James Marc Leas 

Vermont can take action now to restrain the corrupting effects of money in elections without running afoul of Citizens United. With a result joined by all nine Justices, in Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan, the Supreme Court approved legislative conflict of interest recusal as a method to prevent corruption.

Recusal takes a cut at the corruption problem in a manner that is opposite to the way the old limits on election spending attempted. Vermont’s own reasonable contribution limits were declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Randall v. Sorrell based on the notion that money is protected speech. The United States Supreme Court initiated this line of decisions with Buckley v. Valeo, continuing through Citizens United and more recent cases that take its logic even further. Recusal rules straightforwardly address the heart of corruption in democracy while entirely avoiding any entanglement in the convoluted and mostly improvised First Amendment reasoning of those decisions.

Outrage over Citizens United was initially directed toward advocacy of a constitutional amendment to permit restoration of election spending restrictions. However, the Supreme Court’s decision in Nevada Commission on Ethics means that updating our recusal rules provides a far easier and faster way for Vermont to begin to stamp out the corrupting influence of money on elections.

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