By Dave Donaldson
Legislators are looking at ways to require more detailed disclosure of who pays for political advertising. The issue arises out of last month’s decision by the U-S Supreme Court that will allow corporations and labor unions to use their own money to influence voters.
The decision involves independent campaign expenditures – advertising and other activities that are not coordinated with a candidate’s formal campaign structure. Assistant Attorney General John Ptacin told the House State Affairs Committee this morning (Thursday) that the decision does not invalidate Alaska’s ban on corporate contributions directly to an individual candidate. However, there are impacts on other parts of existing law.
Our laws, through the definition of expenditure, restrict corporations and labor unions from making independent communications on political speech. So our laws are certainly implicated by the case. Disclosure and disclaimer were not implicated. So where a disclosure or disclaimer law is applicable to a corporation or a labor union, that law is still in tact.
He said a corporation or a union must now be considered as a person and will be limited exactly the same as any individual who makes a private statement during an election. Such limits include a ban on anonymous advertising.
However, legislative attorney Alpheus Bullard told the committee that there is no easy way to simplify all the ramifications of the Supreme Court decision. As an example, the ban on anonymous advertising can be bypassed by establishing a new, non-profit corporation to create ads and pay for their use.
If I incorporate myself as Alaska Friends of Alaskans for Alaska, that will be my real name. It’s possible that with disclosure and disclaimer requirements to require an entity or a corporation – perhaps – to disclose its top contributors so we can break through this veil of a name. You might consider some legislation in that area in terms of true sources of contributions.
Deputy Attorney General Craig Tillery encouraged legislators to continue putting together legislation giving the state’s position. Although it is not absolutely necessary, he said that it’s much more efficient than having questions answered by the courts.
Whether policy-makers, yourself, the governor, wish to make changes – certainly the more clarification the citizens get generally, it’s a good thing. Again, I would emphasize litigation is not the most efficient way to do that.
The Committee will ask the governor directly to take the lead on submitting legislation giving the state’s position on the changes the state needs to make. Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee next week will introduce its own bill describing what it sees as needed change in the election laws – hoping for action in time to be in effect for this years election cycle.