JUNEAU - Corporations won't have to disclose their spending for or against candidates this election year unless lawmakers force them to, a Senate committee concluded Wednesday.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Hollis French said he wants the panel to do just that, by putting forth a bill that would "contain" the effects of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared third-party corporate spending on such things as campaign ads as a form of protected free speech.
Currently, Alaska state law bans such spending by for-profit corporations for or against candidates. Since there's a ban, existing campaign disclosure requirements don't address corporate spending of this type.
In light of the court ruling, committee members worried corporations wouldn't have to disclose spending in Alaska, the way nonprofits or average Alaskans do theirs. That, in the view of Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, gives corporations "more power to campaign" than individual citizens.
Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said he appreciated Wielechowski's point and said disclosure is a must. But he also said corporate speech shouldn't be banned outright, either.
The committee also sought clarification on whether the court decision allows for limits on this type of corporate spending. The lawyers said it isn't clear-cut. More legal analysis of the case by state lawyers was expected.
French said lawmakers will make the topic a priority, in part, because this is an election year. Most legislative seats are up, as are major offices such as governor and U.S. House and Senate seats.
French, a Democrat from Anchorage, is running for governor.
The Supreme Court decision that triggered this review threw out parts of a decades-old law that said companies and unions can be banned from using their own money to make and run campaign ads urging support, or defeat, of specific candidates.