Supreme Court ruling may weaken effort to challenge Alaska law

Posted: Wednesday, January 26, 2000

ANCHORAGE - Alaska officials in charge of enforcing and defending the state's campaign finance laws say a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision is a strong acknowledgment that current contribution limits are sound.

``A lot of people on both sides were watching this one,'' said Jenifer Kohout, assistant director of the Alaska Public Offices Commission, the state campaign finance watchdog agency.

``For the states that have passed reforms - and there have been a lot of them enacting new contribution limits - there's certainly a sigh of relief,'' she told the Anchorage Daily News.

About two-thirds of the states impose campaign contribution limits. The Supreme Court's Monday ruling in a Missouri case reaffirmed states' rights to impose such limits.

Alaska imposed an annual $1,000 limit for contributions to any office-seeker in the post-Watergate reform era of the 1970s. The limits further were restricted in 1997, when the maximum gift was reduced to $500 and contributions were banned from companies, unions and organizations.

The Alaska Civil Liberties Union challenged those restrictions as a violation of free speech and political association. But the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the new law. The civil liberties union appealed last year to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has yet to say whether it will hear the case.

Kohout and Assistant Attorney General David Jones, lead counsel for the state in the appeal, believe the Supreme Court wanted to rule in the Missouri case before deciding whether to accept the Alaska case.

The civil liberties union has raised other issues in the Alaska appeal along with contribution limits. But Jones said he believes Monday's decision weakens the appeal because limits were the central issue and that makes it much less likely the Supreme Court will accept the case.

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