Milne: Get the money out of politics


BENNINGTON >> Scott Milne, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, said that he is willing to fight Democrats and Republicans alike in Washington to remove the corrupting force of special interest money in politics.

Milne, the President of Milne Travel, ran unsuccessfully against Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin in 2014 in a very close race, which Shumlin won 46.4% to 45.1%. Milne is no stranger to Vermont politics, as both his parents served in the Vermont House of Representatives. He visited Bennington on Friday, and spoke to the Banner.

"I never believed we wanted or needed term limits," said Milne, whose grandfather worked on the staff of Vermont Senator George Aiken, who was the longest serving member of the Senate from 1972-1975 (Ironically, the man who defeated Aiken in 1976 was none other than Milne's Democratic opponent, Patrick Leahy, who has been the longest-serving Senator since 2012), "It's this relatively recent phenomenon in the last 50 years of what I'd call a deadly concoction of special interest money and career politicians that are being propped up election cycle after election cycle."

Milne has said that he would hold himself to a self-imposed two-term limit, after which he would retire from service, allowing another Vermonter to take his place. He ultimately supports a constitutional amendment for term limits, but before that he plans to submit a bill that would eliminate pensions for any member of Congress serving more than four consecutive terms in the House or two consecutive terms in the Senate, which he admits would be unpopular with many of his colleagues.

"We challenged (Leahy) to run a 'Spirit of George Aiken' $100 campaign," he said, "We were surprised he didn't take us up on it. I thought that would have been great for his legacy and great for Vermont. We would have talked about issues, he would have seemed like a normal guy, taking care of the baby. It would have been good for me, but it would have been good for everybody, I think. They laughed at us, said 'The Koch brothers are going to come in and buy Milne the election if we agree to that, we need to keep our money.' So we came back with an Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) template in March or April. We said, 'Okay, if you're worried about that we'll use the template Elizabeth Warren used, with the $250,000 cap and if any dark money comes in you spend $2 (for every $1 your opponent raises),' which was frankly better for him than me since I wasn't planning to having $2 to spend for every dark dollar that came in for him, but he would have had it. They laughed at us on that."

If he accepted money from lobbyists and donors, such as the Koch brothers, said Milne, then he would be, "as bad as (Leahy) is." Instead, he said, he considers "How do we run a campaign that will shine a light on what he sees as his strengths, which I think should be weaknesses — he has so much money and he's got too much power. We essentially unilaterally disarmed. We're running a version of that George Aiken $100 campaign. We're all volunteers, we haven't made one phone call asking anybody for money, we haven't sent one email asking anybody for money. Nobody's asking anybody for money. Usually if we have an event its a fundraiser for a community center or library... If I'm elected with that campaign, I will do more for (the future of) Vermont and America ten seconds after the votes are counted than Leahy is going to do in the next six years, if he has the best term of his life."

As an example of the effect lobbying has had on politics, Milne brought up the opiate crisis facing many parts of Vermont, including Bennington. "Howard Dean, our former governor who is an MD, twelve years ago warned, 'We've got to watch out for these OxyContin, high-potency painkillers, it's a big problem.' He's a country doctor that knew that. Pharmaceutical companies have spent $900 million lobbying people like Patrick Leahy over the last several years. The solution that they come up with is to give people Suboxone and other addictive, very expensive, proprietary drugs. I think that could be a perfect solution, but I'd like to see a solution that's come up with by health professionals, Congresspeople, and U.S. Senators without having lobbyists for pharmaceutical companies have a seat at the table."

Milne said that, had he been a member of the current Senate, he would have stood with Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine in demanding that the Senate leaders hold a vote on President Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) have blocked that vote from happening, arguing that the issue should be left up to the next president to decide. Milne has also been critical of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which some Republicans, such as McConnell, have praised as a, "restoring the First Amendment rights," of corporations and other groups by preventing the government from restricting their political expenditures. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have both been critical of the Citizens United decision.

Milne faces an uphill battle to unseat the long-serving Leahy according to recent polling data from Vermont Public Radio, which showed Leahy holding 59 percent of the vote to Milne's 22. Also running are Liberty Union Party candidate Pete Diamondstone, United States Marijuana Party candidate Cris Ericson (who also ran as a Democrat in the primary against Leahy, but was defeated 89%-11%), and independent Jerry Trudell.

Contact Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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