Opinions

Disclosing huge campaign contributions is not enough

Peace Monument

Three months after the election, the hidden backstory comes out: GCI donated $100,000 to the national Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), which gave $380,000 to the Alaska Council on Good Government, which launched late-in-the-campaign attack ads against Alaskan Independent and Democratic legislative candidates, and ads supporting five Republican candidates in Anchorage and Fairbanks. At the same time, another group, Defend Alaska, collected $150,000 from the Sixteen Thirty Fund based in Washington, D.C., and spent it in support of progressive candidates in Alaska. Nobody knows who funds the Sixteen Thirty Fund: Politico reports it is funded by “massive anonymous donations, including one gift totaling $51.7 million.”

We the Alaska voters want to know who is behind these election campaigns, who is trying to manipulate our vote, in real time. So last November, we passed Ballot Measure 2 to shine a light on this dark money, requiring disclosure of the true sources of campaign contributions larger than $2000. (The RLSC, GCI and two GCI executives also gave $245,000 to oppose Ballot Measure 2, preferring that their hidden hands stay hidden.)

This step toward fair and open elections is important, but not enough. We, the Alaska voters, also want to limit individual, corporate and Outside contributions to campaigns, to ensure that the candidates are courting and representing us, the multitude of voters, and not just the donor class.

That’s why in 1996, we enacted Alaska’s campaign finance law, setting strict limits on campaign contributions to a candidate or a group that is not a political party, as well as aggregate limits on the dollar amount a candidate could accept from non-residents. In the preamble to the new law, the Legislature found that “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.” Under the new law, individuals could donate at most $500 per year to a candidate or to an independent expenditure group (SuperPAC), and could donate at most $5,000 per year to a political party. Then a few years later when the legislature tried to raise the limit again, we the voters reaffirmed the strict $500 limit through a ballot initiative, which passed in 2006 with a popular vote of 73%.

Alaska’s law is a good one. The problem is, it is not being enforced. The problem is, five men in black robes, sitting on the highest court in far-away Washington, D.C., with no political experience or particular expertise, decided that we can’t limit campaign contributions in this way, because it would unconstitutionally burden the free speech rights of the Big Money and Outside donors. Fortunately, four Supreme Court justices disagreed. And furthermore, the Supremes do not have the last word anyway. We the people hold the ultimate authority on this question of how to structure fair and open elections for our on-going project in self-governance.

To reassert our state’s right to enforce our own law — and to pass new law that regulates campaign contributions on ballot measures — we will need to band together with other states to amend the U.S. Constitution to clarify for the court that money is not speech, Super-PACs and other corporations are not people with constitutional rights, and our elected representatives do have the authority to regulate campaign finances. Indeed, it is vital to the integrity of our elections and our democracy that we limit the undue influence of Big Money and Outside money to ensure equal opportunity for regular voters to be heard.

We stepped up for this too, last November: We passed Ballot Measure 2, which in part called for such an amendment. In doing so, we joined 21 other states calling for the 28th Amendment. The next step is to motivate our state legislators and congressional delegation to join the call with a resolution. (And if we fail to motivate Congress to act in a timely fashion, we can call for a Convention of the States to write the amendment, without the help of Congress.)

Is Rep. Don Young listening? He needs to sign on as a cosponsor of HJR48 to kick-start the amendment process. The last Congress had 75 co-sponsors of this resolution; he was not one of them. As our representative, it is time for him to heed the voice of his constituents and join his colleagues in other states, to work for what Alaskans, and Americans nationwide, have clearly and consistently said we want. Alaskans want control over Alaska elections!

Sharman Haley is an economist and retired professor of economics and public policy at the University of Alaska Anchorage, as well as an active member of Alaska Move to Amend.

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