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High Court Throws Out Vermont Campaign Limits

A divided Supreme Court throws out Vermont's limits on campaign contributions, ruling that the law constitutes a restraint of free speech, in violation of the First Amendment. Vermont's limits on campaign spending and fundraising are the lowest in the nation.

The decision, which comes as the Court nears the end of its session, marks the first time that the High Court has invalidated any campaign contribution limit as being too low.

In 1997, Vermont enacted the toughest campaign reform law in the country, limiting both campaign spending and contributions. Campaign finance reformers and their critics had hoped to use the Vermont law as a way to attack the Supreme Court's 1976 landmark decision on what is and is not constitutionally permissible campaign finance regulation.

The reformers wanted the court to allow more regulation, while the critics wanted the court to allow less. But the newly constituted Supreme Court, for all practical purposes, left the status quo in place.

The Vermont law at issue, contrary to three decades of court precedent, put limits on how much a candidate can spend in a campaign. The Supreme Court said the state could not do that, as it unconstitutionally limits the candidate's political expression.

Under the Vermont law, each individual, and each party committee is limited to from $200 to $400 in contributions to a candidate. The limit extends to an entire election cycle, including primary and general elections.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.