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How Public Financing Rules Shape Governor, Lt. Governor Races

Vermont's rules require potential candidates to wait until after Feb. 15 to announce if they hope to qualify for $150,000 in public financing for the primary, with an additional $450,000 up for grabs during the general election.

When Gov. Peter Shumlin announced in June that he would not seek a fourth term in office, a mad scramble began for candidates interested in running for governor and lieutenant governor. Within a few weeks there were five gubernatorial candidates and at least three candidates for lieutenant governor.

But that group is likely to grow even more in the early part of next year. In Vermont, candidates interested in public financing are legally required to wait until after Feb. 15 to announce their intention to run. And a significant chunk of money is available to potential candidates if they stay quiet until after that deadline.

The way public financing works is if you're running for governor, you're eligible to receive $150,000 if you have a primary campaign opponent. If you win the primary, you receive an additional $450,000 for the general election.

To qualify for this money, a candidate must raise at least $35,000 from no fewer than 1,500 donors, each with a maximum contribution of $50.

For the lieutenant governor’s race, the funds and requirements are essentially cut in half.

Secretary of State Jim Condos says there's absolutely no wiggle room for potential candidates when it comes to the Feb. 15 announcement date.

“It's a rule that has been in place, I think, since the inception of this law which dates back to the late '90s,” Condos says.

Condos says this provision was included in an effort to shorten the length of campaign season.

But the regulation on when to announce is not the only rule to consider if a candidate  hopes to receive public funding.

"No more than 25 percent of your qualifying contributions can come from the residents of the same county,” Condos explains. “So you do have to show some support statewide."

Until Feb. 15, potential candidates can discuss some of the reasons why they might be interested in running, but Condos says that is as far as they can go and still be eligible for public financing.  

“If you announce prior to Feb. 15, or begin fundraising before Feb. 15,” says Condo. “Then you, at that point, are disqualified from the public financing portion."

"I think that people do want to see the money get out of politics and the only way you're going to do that is if you go to public financing." - Secretary of State Jim Condos

Condos says he supports public financing because he is concerned that too much out-of-state money is flowing into Vermont's statewide races.

"I think that people do want to see the money get out of politics and the only way you're going to do that is if you go to public financing,” Condos says.

Condos notes that several states offer public financing for legislative races and he thinks lawmakers might want to look at this option in the coming years.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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