Democratic legislators want disclosure of donors in federal campaigns

ldemer@adn.comDecember 3, 2013 

Two leading Democratic legislators from Anchorage on Tuesday demanded that Congress require more disclosure of who is funneling money into congressional races.

State Sen. Hollis French, who is running for lieutenant governor, and Rep. Les Gara said they will try to push Congress to do at the federal level what Alaska already accomplished: require disclosure of contributors to independent groups trying to influence elections.

They said they were reacting to ads now airing around Alaska by a Koch brothers-funded group that is targeting U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, a fellow Democrat who Republicans nationally are trying to unseat. The Americans for Prosperity ads feature a woman who talks about Begich as if he is her senator and bemoans his support of the Affordable Care Act. In reality, she's an actress from Maryland.

"We're getting this anonymous, innocuous sounding Outside group, Americans for Prosperity, pushing their views on how we should do things in Alaska without us knowing who is donating to them," French said. "If you're an informed voter, you know it's the Koch brothers."

Gara described the approach as "fake ads by fake Alaskans to attack our own people."

On an icy Tuesday with the temperature at 7 degrees, the legislators led a rally of about 20 people, including Democratic Party activists and legislative aides, outside the Federal Building in downtown Anchorage to put attention on the expected flood of big-money ads to come.

The Alaska law was passed in 2010 in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case that allowed corporations, unions and wealthy people to independently spend unlimited amounts on campaigns as a free-speech right.

French, who took the lead on the response as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the state couldn't halt the donations, but did require disclosure of who gave the money.

That same year, a measure to force similar disclosure in federal political campaigns was filibustered in the U.S. Senate. A vote to end the filibuster failed 59-3 -- 60 votes are needed. Sen. Lisa Murkowski missed the vote, according to news reports at the time, but she now is a cosponsor of bipartisan campaign disclosure bill called the "Follow the Money Act."

"Congress should do what we did in Alaska," Gara said. "If you're a billionaire, if you're an Outside corporation, if you're a Chinese corporation, you have to list your name on the television ad."

Since the state cannot control federal elections, the Democrats propose a legislative resolution to Congress calling for federal disclosure.

One key Republican, Sen. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks, said he thought disclosure was a good idea.

"It works both ways. I know right now the Koch brothers are the bad boys ... but George Soros can do the same thing," said Coghill, who is majority leader and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Koch Brothers are billionaire industrialists who frequently contribute to conservative causes. Soros is a billionaire financier who frequently contributes to liberal causes.

The House majority leader, Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, said he wasn't so sure about disclosure. The public probably isn't that interested in that kind of detail, he said. People are more focused on how they are going to heat their homes and getting a good job, he said.

Americans for Prosperity spoke out Tuesday about Gara and French, calling them "Begich surrogates."

"Instead of playing cheap political games to change the subject, Sen. Begich should explain why he continues to support ObamaCare instead of repealing this disastrous law," Heidi Gay, the organization's Alaska director, said in a written statement.

Begich has said he supports affordable health coverage for all.

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.

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