No more limits on individual contributions to Alaska political campaigns

JUNEAU (AP) — Individuals will be allowed to make unlimited contributions to candidates for governor and the Legislature this year under a decision by the state commission that oversees Alaska campaign finance rules.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission on March 3, failed to support a staff proposal to set revised limits in place of tighter caps that were struck down by a federal appeals court panel last year.

The court invalidated Alaska’s $500-a-year individual donation limit to candidates, saying it was too low. The court, however, did not set new limits, and left that decision to the commission and the Legislature.

The court ruling came in a long-standing battle between free speech rights and campaign limits set by state lawmakers to curb the influence of money on Alaska politics.

A contentious draft proposal from Alaska Public Offices Commission staff, issued in November, suggested the previous limits that were in place before the $500 cap be adjusted for inflation and restored. That included proposed limits of $1,500 per calendar year for individuals to candidates. Campaigns had been adhering to the draft opinion until the commission weighed in.

The commission, in its March 3 decision, declined the revive the old contribution limits and also declined to index those for inflation. There were legal questions about whether it had the power to do either of those things.

The commission voted 3-2 to adopt the new contribution limits, but it required four commissioners to adopt the staff recommendation.

Heather Hebdon, the commission’s executive director, said given the court ruling and commission decision, individuals may now contribute unlimited amounts to candidates and non-party groups, while non-party groups can contribute unlimited amounts to candidates and other non-party groups.

The commission urged lawmakers to revisit contribution limits to balance the appeals court panel decision “with the desire of Alaska voters.”

Legislators could still pass new campaign finance limits this session before their adjournment deadline in mid-May.

 

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