Milne Calls Out Leahy For Debate And Campaign Finance Hypocrisy

Pomfret, VT (August 29, 2016) – U.S. Senate candidate Scott Milne sent the following letter to Sen. Leahy today in response to Leahy’s rejection of his debate and clean campaign challenge. In it, Milne exposes Leahy’s hypocrisy on these issues by pointing to Leahy’s own words supporting the very proposals Milne has offered.

Dear Senator Leahy,

I am deeply disappointed by your letter rejecting my debate proposal and clean campaign challenge.

It is central to our democracy that voters have maximum opportunity to hear directly from the candidates on the issues of the day. If we are to free ourselves from a system dominated by 30 second campaign ads funded by millions of dollars of special interest money, candidates must be willing to engage in vigorous public debate in front of the most possible constituents. You claim to support these ideals, but unfortunately you are engaging in the worst kind of cynical, Beltway politics – saying one thing, but doing another.

You claim that Vermont “tradition” dictates a limit of three debates for the office of U.S. Senate. I found this ridiculous claim all the more disingenuous given you challenged Jim Douglas to six debates in 1992.

As occurs all too often with career politicians, it seems that after 42 years of living and working in Washington D.C., your campaign has substituted personal political ambition for the principles you claim to represent. I repeat my request for one-hour live debates on each of Vermont’s four television outlets.

Furthermore, in your 1998 VPR debate with Fred Tuttle, in response to an audience question about the influence of the defense industry in politics, you boasted that you had rejected PAC money and supported spending limits – the exact same thing I’m asking you to do today by agreeing to my clean campaign pledge. As a reminder of your prior position, I have included a transcript and link to video of the exchange here:

Caller: I’m very dismayed at the amount of money being spent on campaigns. I think that’s part of the problem of true democracy in this country. I think that there’s a lot of lobbying by the defense industry which is helping keep our military budget at this level… My question to the Senator is where does this all end, and how can we ever get off of this addiction to military spending? …

Bob Kinzel, VPR: Fletcher, let me just follow up. Are you concerned about not only the military spending, but also just campaign finance reform in general, or how those two issues are tied together?

Caller: Yeah, I think they can be tied together. I think part of it is the incumbents will stay in office because of the amount of money that industry will spend on them to continue to keep them in office, keep them voting in favor of their interests.

Kinzel: Okay, Senator Leahy?

Leahy: Let me take the campaign finance reform. For the life of me I cannot understand why the leadership in the House and Senate blocked real campaign finance reform this year. You would think that people who have to go out and raise money would want real campaign finance reform. I’m the only person ever elected to federal office in Vermont who’s done it without taking PAC money. And I don’t. I’ve seen how the scramble for PAC money allows too many of the special interests to come in. But what we ought to do is have real campaign finance reform, and it could be done, and it could be done constitutionally, that would limit the amount of money that you spend. For one thing that would limit the influence of special interests. It would limit the time in campaigns. Some campaigns now go on for two or three years, for example, for a Senate seat. It would limit the amount of money. It would certainly cut out the negative ads, and there’d be a lot more interest in the campaign. What I’m hearing from all the national media, Fred, who come up here, they see the two of us going around to schools. Fred and I have been going around to grade schools asking kids to get their parents to take them to the voting booth the same way Fred’s parents did with him and my parents did with me when we were little. And they’re amazed to see a state with no negative ads, a state where people actually talk about issues. If we did that, whether it’s the military industrial complex or whether it’s any other, we would have a lot less interest – a lot less influence, rather.

You can see how an observer who has heard you speak in these terms would be shocked by your startling reversal. It is particularly ironic in light of recent revelations by Seven Days that you acted on behalf of a major defense contractor to secure them a lucrative government contract and subsequently accepted nearly $10,000 in campaign contributions from their PAC.

Senator, I also oppose the Citizens United decision, and would support a constitutional amendment to reverse it. It is clear that we differ in that I am willing to practice what I preach, and you are not. However, I also question whether you are actually averse to the “unchecked and unlimited money… by shadowy groups and individuals with agendas other than good government,” as your campaign manager Carolyn Dwyer characterized PAC money. After all, 18 years before Citizens United, you also rejected Jim Douglas’ challenge to reject PAC money. It seems your position on these issues has nothing to do with principle, and everything to do with your own political ambitions. It is this sort of hypocrisy and posturing that have caused Americans to lose faith in Washington, D.C. and its career politicians.

In their 2012 U.S. Senate race, Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown demonstrated that voluntary agreements between candidates such as the one I have proposed do effectively prevent outside groups from interfering in an election. In this campaign, you and I do not require a constitutional amendment to govern our respective campaigns. If we believe what we say, we can voluntarily agree today to run the sort of campaigns you claim to support and that Vermonters can be proud of.

Let us reject big moneyed special interests and embrace a real, grassroots-style campaign that gives Vermonters the cleanest opportunity to hear their candidates debate the issues of the day. This is the Vermont tradition that is truly at stake in this campaign.


Scott Milne