Campaign finance disclosure good for the public

A big part of a well-functioning democracy is running for office or, if you don’t want your name on the ballot, backing a candidate, taking a position on a ballot issue, and writing checks for the campaigns you support.

Writing those checks to elect your favored candidates and contributing to campaigns to win, or defeat, ballot propositions that do, or do not, serve your interests and align with your beliefs is everyone’s constitutional right. Freedom of expression includes the freedom to spend your money to promote your own self-interests and political views.

All that the state law says is your freedom to influence politics includes the responsibility to raise your hand and tell the public so that people can judge the candidates and ballot issues by the company they keep. Who is writing the checks to influence an election is part of the information the public deserves to know as they decide how to vote.

Open and fair elections are essential in a democracy, and hiding campaign contributions and influence money from the public is neither open nor fair.

Sadly, a group of political donors has gone to court in an effort to shut down a new state law that requires disclosure of campaign donations.

The opponents of full disclosure have sued over state campaign finance rules enacted under a 2020 voter initiative, arguing the rules are burdensome and could lead to reprisals against them and their business interests. Rather than stand up and defend their beliefs, they want the court to let them hide behind anonymity.

The disclosure rules were part of the same 2020 ballot measure that did away with closed party primary elections and instituted a system of ranked-choice voting for public offices where all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, run against each other. The theme of the citizens initiative was less political partisanship and divisiveness and more openness. That includes telling people where the money is coming from.

In particular, the lawsuit by defenders of campaign finance anonymity objects to the provision that requires reporting contributions larger than $2,000 given to campaign groups not affiliated with a candidate. Those are the big money, dark-money, loud-money groups that drive much of the spending every election season, usually the nastiest and most uninhibited material that ends up in your mailbox and on social media.

The lawsuit is backed by the Liberty Justice Center, a national conservative organization devoted to litigation over a range of issues, including no to taxes and unions and yes to unrestricted political campaigns.

Alaska needs more disclosure and restrictions on the millions that flow into political campaigns, not less. It’s unfortunate that the protectors of campaign finance anonymity think less public information is better.

Wrangell Sentinel

 

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