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The attack on Alaska’s campaign finance law

  • Author: Sharman Haley
    | Opinion
  • Updated: December 1, 2018
  • Published December 1, 2018

The Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, D.C., on September 25, 2018. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that Alaska’s campaign finance law limiting out-of-state contributions to candidates violates the First Amendment. This was based on the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, narrowing the reasons states can limit campaign contributions to preventing “quid pro quo corruption.” This is too narrow.

The stated purpose for Alaska’s campaign finance law is to restore the public’s trust in the electoral process and to foster good government, based on findings that: “(1) campaigns for elective public office last too long, are often uninformative, and are too expensive; (2) highly qualified citizens are dissuaded from running for public office due to the high cost of election campaigns; (3) organized special interests are responsible for raising a significant portion of all election campaign funds and may thereby gain an undue influence over election campaigns and elected officials, particularly incumbents; and (4) incumbents enjoy a distinct advantage in raising money for election campaigns, and many elected officials raise and carry forward huge surpluses from one campaign to the next, to the disadvantage of challengers.”

This law was proposed by citizen’s initiative, passed by the Legislature in 1996, amended by initiative in 2006 to restore and reaffirm the $500 contribution limit for individuals, and approved with 73 percent of the popular vote in support.

To defend our law, we need to pass a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution saying the court majority was wrong: Money is not protected speech, corporations are not people with constitutional rights, and our elected officials have the authority and responsibility to regulate campaign finance broadly in the interests of good government, equal representation and citizen trust.

A resolution in support of such an amendment will be introduced in the Anchorage Assembly in short order. A similar resolution will be introduced in the Alaska Legislature this session. Nineteen states and more than 800 municipalities have already gone on record in support of this proposed 28th Amendment. Let your Assembly members and legislators know you support strong campaign finance laws, you support the proposed 28th Amendment, and ask them to support these resolutions.

Sharman Haley, an economist and retired professor of economics and public policy at the University of Alaska Anchorage, is a member of Move to Amend, which seeks a constitutional amendment to clarify that only individuals, not corporations, have constitutional rights.

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