by Guy Page
H363, a bill introduced into the Vermont House on Feb. 26, would “permit a candidate for statewide office to receive a salary from the candidate’s campaign funds.”
The bill applies to candidates for statewide office only – not legislators. At present, candidates for Vermont office – statewide, legislative, and local – may pay campaign staff salaries but may not draw a salary themselves. Vermont candidates for federal office, including the two senate seats and lone Congressional seats, already are permitted to draw campaign salaries. A petition filed Monday would expand on that federal rule, including setting a minimum salary for candidates.
H363 was sponsored by Rep. Mary Howard, a Rutland Democrat. As proposed, it provides the following restrictions:
- the salary must not exceed the salary the candidate received as earned income in the previous year
- the candidate has obtained the required number of petition signatures
- a candidate must provide income tax records and additional proof of earnings from relevant years to the State’s Attorney or the Attorney General upon request;
- payments of salary payments must be made on a pro-rata basis (a candidate may not receive a whole year’s salary if the candidate is not a candidate for statewide office for an entire twelve-month period).
On April 13, Gov. Phil Scott signed into law H10, which allows all candidates – including legislators – to compensate themselves for personal expenses (such as childcare) from their campaign fund. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D-Bradford), Chair of the House Government Operations Committee. It sailed through the House and Senate with little comment and was signed promptly by the governor.
Both H363 and H10 would allow campaign donors – including special interests advocating legislation – to indirectly provide financial compensation to candidates, including incumbents. It’s up to the state’s courts to decide whether this compensation violates Chapter II, Section 12 of the Vermont Constitution: “No member of the General Assembly shall, directly or indirectly, receive any fee or reward, to bring forward or advocate any bill, petition, or other business to be transacted in the Legislature; or advocate any cause, as counsel in either House of legislation, except when employed in behalf of the State.”
Expanding candidates’ abilities to derive financial benefit from campaign funds would tend to support candidates likely to hold office and can exert immediate influence on issues of interest to advocacy organizations. For example, the campaign of a longterm incumbent in a “safe” district is generally more likely to receive advocacy group funding than a little-known challenger.