Bills seek to limit corporations' role in state elections

Two measures directly challenge the notion of corporations as people

Posted: Sunday, February 21, 2010

Several Alaska lawmakers introduced bills Friday aimed at limiting the role of corporations in elections, a move that comes a month after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned certain restrictions on corporate and union campaign spending.

Some states, including Alaska, had banned corporations and unions from independently spending their money on advertising that urged people to vote for or against specific candidates.

But that kind of third-party political spending is protected free speech, the Supreme Court ruled on Jan. 21. The decision has raised concerns that corporations and unions may now have unlimited spending rights, so long as the spending isn't coordinated with candidates.

Sen. Hollis French and Reps. Scott Kawasaki and Les Gara, all Democrats, introduced the four related bills.

Two of the measures directly challenge the legal notion that corporations are people and therefore have political free speech rights - a key argument in the court's decision. The bills state that for-profit corporations are not people with regard to influencing elections.

"Here in Alaska, we have seen far too clearly the corrupting influence corporations can have when they decide to get too closely involved in the political process," French said, referring to the case of an oil services executive who was sentenced to federal prison last year for bribing state lawmakers.

The bills won't have an immediate practical effect, but should send a message to the Supreme Court and set up the legal framework to have it consider reversing its decision in future years, French said. That message will get louder as more states follow suit, Kawasaki said.

The other two bills clarify disclosure requirements on corporate campaign spending that may not be required in Alaska. They also would require naming the top five contributors paying for corporate campaign advertising within the advertising itself.

Gara said he believes the bills will attract bipartisan support in the House, even though the sponsors are all Democrats. The majority party's members have expressed support, he said.

Meanwhile, other lawmakers have been waiting for a formal legal analysis on the case's impact from the administration's Department of Law, which is expected soon.

French, who is running for governor, said the decision's impacts must be addressed quickly, given it's an election year and that the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn in less than 60 days.

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