By Dave Donaldson
The reaction to last week’s Supreme Court decision that could open up political coffers to corporate money is mounting in the state capitol this week.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has announced that it will hold at least one hearing on the subject to help determine the decision’s effect on Alaska politics.
Attorney General Daniel Sullivan has a team of state attorneys working to understand fully the effects of the two hundred page decision — how it relates to state laws and regulations.
He says the preliminary review shows No change to the campaign donation limits to a candidate’s campaign, nor does it open direct campaign contributions by corporations or labor unions. He says the state’s disclosure laws are also unchanged by the decision.
What law would be affected is that Alaska has a statute that prohibits corporations or labor unions from making independent campaign expenditures. So essentially, money spent on ads for or against a candidate not coordinated with the campaign. And we believe that the supreme court opinion will likely have a significant impact on that statutory prohibition in Alaska.
He describes an independent expenditure as an advertisement that supports or opposes a candidate or issue — but the focus is on the advertisement’s independence from the official campaign structure.
Meanwhile, House Democrats have set up a working group to determine whether any change in Alaska law is necessary.
Anchorage Democrat Berta Gardner is on that special group. She says they need to know if foreign corporations are allowed into American politics — and how far corporations will be allowed to go into local issues and races. She says one of the first things that can be done is to work on the state’s political disclosure laws, letting people know who is involved in paying for campaigns.
People have a right to know where the money is coming from that impacts campaigns and that pays for it. And I make no bones about it, that I’m a supporter of public financing of campaigns. There’s just no way around it — that money buys a lot, and we’ve made it worse.
House majority leader Kyle Johansen has a campaign disclosure bill already before the House. Although it was written to make public the identities of donors to ballot initiatives, he says it goes along with the overall reaction to corporate involvement in political campaigns. He says he could “absolutely” back a separate measure to open the books on campaigns.
My key issue is disclosure. And if indeed if the Supreme Court ruling calls for more money in Alaska elections, then we need to disclose it. That’s the gist of my bill is disclosure on initiatives, I don’t care if it’s initiatives, individuals, issues, I believe any penny that’s spent needs to be disclosed. Because that effects Alaskans.
Sullivan says he welcomes advising legislators and state agencies — such as the Alaska Public Offices Commission — as work on the state’s response gets started.