Group appeals lawsuit challenging Alaska campaign finance laws

A group of Republicans trying to loosen campaign contribution limits in Alaska — following key decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years — is appealing a ruling by a federal judge in November that upheld the state's strict limits.

Kevin Clarkson, attorney for the plaintiffs, said on Monday that the ruling by U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess, an appointee of George W. Bush, came as no surprise. Burgess is bound to follow case law established by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that represents nine Western states, including Alaska, Clarkson said.

But Clarkson asserted that the appeals court has erred by ignoring Supreme Court decisions affecting campaign finance laws, such as the Citizens United decision in 2010 that struck down most limits on contributions to groups that operate independently of campaigns, though not to candidates themselves. Instead, the appeals court is incorrectly relying on earlier case law that may no longer be valid, Clarkson said.

"It's questionable whether 9th Circuit law (in this case) is still good law," Clarkson said Monday.

The plaintiffs — Alaska residents Jim Crawford and Aaron Downing and Wisconsin resident David Thompson — had hoped Burgess would strike down Alaska caps such as the $500-per-person annual limit on contributions to candidates and restrictions on contributions from nonresidents.

If the appeals court rules against the plaintiffs, Clarkson said, the issue may go to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final decision.

Clarkson filed notice of the appeal to the 9th Circuit on Monday. It will be months before briefs are filed in the case.


Alaska attorney Margaret Paton-Walsh,  an assistant attorney general, said the state's legal team anticipated the appeal.

"It seemed they were always looking to challenge the 9th Circuit court's approach," she said.

She said "it's far from clear" that the appeals court is wrong.

"We think from a factual perspective our case is strong," she said.

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or alex@adn.com.