Second Circuit Turns Back Challenge to Vermont’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws & Contribution Limits

Today, in Vermont Right to Life Committee (VRLC) v. Sorrell, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the State of Vermont’s campaign finance disclosure law and the application of state contribution limits to a purported “independent” political committee.

“This decision is an unqualified win for the voters of Vermont who will continue to receive the information they need about independent political spending to make meaningful decisions at the polls,” said Tara Malloy, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel.  “In recent years the disclosure laws of nearly two dozen states have been attacked—even though the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that the disclosure of independent election spending is entirely consistent with the First Amendment.”

In addition to challenging Vermont’s disclosure requirements, the plaintiff VRLC asked the court to invalidate the state contribution limits as applied to its sister committee that allegedly made only independent expenditures.  The Second Circuit, however, declined to take these unsupported allegations of independence at face value.  After reviewing the district court’s extensive factual analysis, it determined that the “independent” committee was functionally indistinguishable from VRLC, which openly contributed to and communicated with candidates, given “the overlap of staff and resources, the lack of financial independence, the coordination of activities, and the flow of information between the entities.” 

“For too long in federal elections we have seen so-called ‘independent’ groups operating hand-in-glove with candidates and parties, as well as with other committees that were clearly coordinating with candidates and parties.  The notion that their activities were truly independent and non-corrupting has been a sad joke,” said Ms. Malloy.  “It is a relief to see a court take seriously its responsibility to ensure that an ‘independent’ group is in fact independent and to draw the line on the type of coordinated activity that clearly gives rise to potential quid pro quo corruption and public concerns about the integrity of our political system.”

The Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed an amici brief with the Second Circuit in defense of Vermont’s disclosure laws and contribution limits.  

To read the full opinion of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, click here.

To read the brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, click here.