JUNEAU -- An opinion from the board that administers campaign finance laws in Alaska opens the door for a new independent group to raise and spend unlimited cash in this year's elections, a decision that could have farther-reaching implications.
In its advisory opinion, the Alaska Public Offices Commission adopted recommendations from staff that the group Alaska Deserves Better be allowed to raise and spend money in unlimited amounts.
While Alaska law sets contribution limits, the opinion says those prohibiting independent expenditures by corporations and labor unions are likely unconstitutional in light of a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed for such spending to support or oppose candidates.
The commission's executive director, Paul Dauphinais, said the advisory opinion is specific to Alaska Deserves Better and the way it plans to operate. But Tim McKeever, an attorney for the group, says the opinion could also have implications for other, similar groups.
According to commission documents, Alaska Deserves Better "intends to promote responsible, ethical and transparent government in Alaska by providing the public with relevant information regarding candidates for state and local office."
The group sought the ruling while looking for clarity on what it could and couldn't do, something that Dauphinais recommends before such a group moves forward.
McKeever said Friday that he wasn't authorized to say who is behind the group, but he said he expected the organization to register with the Public Offices Commission soon.
The Alaska Public Offices Commission was asked whether Alaska Deserves Better could raise money and make independent expenditures -- those not coordinated with a campaign -- in unlimited amounts. The opinion, approved by the board this week, found that while Alaska laws and regulations limit the dollar amount of contributions the group can receive, it appears that the high court's decision "has potentially rendered those restrictions unconstitutional as applied to groups that make only independent expenditures.
"As a result, ADB -- as an independent expenditure group -- can obtain contributions in unlimited amounts, with no restriction on the amounts or sources," the opinion states.
The Alaska Department of Law, in a statement, said the U.S. Supreme Court case and other federal court decisions have cast doubt on the constitutionality of many state campaign finance laws.
"Under these circumstances, APOC has the discretion to issue an advisory opinion stating APOC will not pursue an enforcement action, when doing so may violate the constitutional rights of the party requesting the opinion," the department said.
Asked about the issue of clarity, the department said that without a ruling from a court or a change in legislation "there simply will not be clarity in this area."
By BECKY BOHRER