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Alaska Dems go against Supreme Court on spending

Posted: February 2, 2012 - 1:11am

JUNEAU — Alaska Democratic lawmakers Wednesday proposed a move toward amending the U.S. Constitution to ban unlimited third-party spending in campaigns.

The resolution is a direct response to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows corporations and unions to give unlimited amounts to outside groups in support of or in opposition to candidates for office. The court decision gave rise to so-called super PACs, the likes of which have made a mark during the 2010 U.S. Senate race in Alaska and are having an impact on the U.S. presidential race.

The resolution, introduced in both the House and Senate, would urge the president and Congress to propose a constitutional amendment to ban such unlimited spending.

It’s a long shot — two-thirds of each the U.S. House and U.S. Senate would need to pass a proposed amendment, and three-quarters of states would have to ratify it — but Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, and lead sponsor of SJR13, said other states will take notice if the Alaska Legislature takes the first step and passes the resolution.

That in itself could be a hard road but Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said he thinks both sides — Republicans and Democrats — understand that unlimited money in campaigns is a problem.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, and the lead sponsor on the House resolution, HJR33, said he thinks there’s an appetite in the country to take this step.

“There should be limits on what people can spend,” Gara said, adding later: “This is about giving people their democracy back and taking it back from the billionaires who are distorting the process.”

Wielechowski said money shouldn’t equal free speech.

The Legislature, in 2010, passed a measure that, among other things, required disclosure of the three top donors to an independent expenditure group.

Another Democrat-backed bill, HB244, would bar corporations from contributing to campaigns. Gara said that if states pass such legislation, it would send a strong message to the U.S. Supreme Court the next time it takes up the campaign finance issue.

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