WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Vermont's limits on contributions and spending in political campaigns are too low and improperly hinder the ability of candidates to raise money and speak to voters.
In a fractured set of opinions, justices said they were not sweeping aside 30 years of election finance precedent but rather finding only that Vermont's law — the strictest in the nation — sets limits that unconstitutionally hamstring candidates.
The majority took issue with Vermont legislators for "constraining speech" by telling candidates and voters how much campaigning was enough.
In one of six separate opinions, Justice Stephen Breyer said a majority of justices found Vermont's law was unconstitutional.
"That is to say, they impose burdens upon First Amendment interests that (when viewed in light of the statute's legitimate objectives) are disproportionately severe," Breyer wrote.
In 1997, Vermont passed its campaign finance law, placing a $300,000 spending cap on gubernatorial candidates and lesser limits for other state political contests. Contributions to state campaigns were limited to as little as $200 per election cycle for state House races.