Political campaigns

Federal Court Ruling Likely Allows Unlimited Money in Political Campaigns in Alaska

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned three of Alaska’s key limits on campaign contributions in a landmark ruling on Friday.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission declined to comment on the ruling, saying state prosecutors are still reviewing it, but without further action Americans will likely be able to donate unlimited amounts directly to Alaskan politicians who are campaigning for the position.

“Until the Legislative Assembly and the governor act, there is largely no limit,” said Daniel Weiner, deputy director of the electoral reform program at the Brennan Center for Justice, which advocated state restrictions.

“I think it’s a good day for free speech,” said Anchorage attorney Robin Brena, who represented the plaintiffs.

Friday’s ruling affects four rules. It maintained a $5,000 limit on the amount of money a political party can donate to a municipal candidate, but canceled three others:

• A limit of $500 per year on the amount of money an Alaskan can contribute to a particular candidate;

• A limit of $500 per year on contributions to a particular political group;

• A $3,000 limit on the amount of money a candidate can accept from all out-of-state donors combined in any given year.

These limits were imposed in a 2006 ballot measure that passed with the support of 73% of voters. It only applied to candidates running for state and local elections, not those seeking federal office.

Friday’s decision came after nearly six years of arguments that began when three Republicans filed a lawsuit challenging the limits.

Most were upheld in a 2016 Alaska District Court ruling and a 2018 appeal to the 9th Circuit, but in 2019 the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that ruling and asked the 9th Circuit to reconsider.

He did, and on Friday a three-judge panel ruled 2-1 against the restrictions. The decision suggests that higher limits, indexed to inflation, could be legally accepted, said Weiner and attorney Scott Kendall, who drafted the campaign finance disclosure rules in Ballot Measure 2 of the ‘last year. This measure requires additional disclosure of certain indirect campaign contributions, but has not changed. the amount of any limit.

Kendall was not involved in the case, but said it was major news for anyone who cares about money in politics.

“I really think the Ninth Circuit said that law was gone. I think something needs to be put in place to replace it,” he said.

Because the case has already been heard by the Supreme Court, Brena said he thought an appeal was unlikely to succeed, but Weiner noted that a 9th Circuit judge dissented, and if the case is heard by a larger panel of 9th Circuit judges, the outcome could change.

A US Supreme Court ruling known as Citizens United already allows unlimited contributions to third-party groups banned from coordinating with campaigns. Brena said Friday’s decision “rebalances” things.

“What it does is it gives the candidate and their campaign an opportunity to be heard in the din, in the conversation, so it’s not just massive, well-funded independent spending groups that have vested interests, which dominate the conversation,” he said. .

Kendall disagreed with this interpretation.

“There’s a very different flavor to giving to an (independent spending group) compared to being able to go to a candidate as an individual and say, ‘I can fund your whole campaign. Here is a check for $200,000,” he said. “I think it’s a surprising and worrying situation if they don’t fix the problem.”

Correction: The court upheld a $5,000 limit on political party contributions to municipal candidates only. It did not address party contributions to non-municipal candidates. The original version of this article was incorrect.