Toughen corporate campaigning rules, lawmakers say

Posted: Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The laws being written for corporate disclosure and disclaimers in political campaigning need teeth to be effective, House lawmakers said Tuesday.

Rep. Max Gruenberg, an Anchorage Democrat, said tougher criminal charges may better fit corporate misbehavior in political campaigning than the sanctions the Alaska Public Offices Commission now uses.

The bill before the House State Affairs Committee states what corporations can and can't do, Gruenberg said, but leaves out some crucial parts.

"It doesn't deal with remedy or enforcement," he said.

Committee chairman Rep. Bob Lynn, an Anchorage Republican, agreed that corporate penalties should be examined. He asked a state lawyer Tuesday to research penalties and return to the committee.

The bill being discussed addresses a January U.S. Supreme Court decision that protected certain union and corporate spending in political campaigns as free speech. Specifically, corporations can now independently spend their money urging people to vote for or against specific candidates. That kind of third-party spending had been banned outright in Alaska and other states.

Gruenberg said in some situations, the gains for corporations from violating campaign laws may outweigh the civil and criminal penalties. As tools of enforcement, he suggested prosecuting violations as perjury or conspiracy, and suggested enforcement ranging from cease and desist orders to corporate dissolution in egregious cases.

Gruenberg is sponsoring separate legislation toughening civil and criminal penalties for antitrust violations.

Meanwhile Tuesday, the Senate State Affairs Committee passed a similar bill that now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Legislators from both parties in both chambers have made legislation shoring up Alaska's corporate campaign laws a priority in the wake of the high court's decision, especially given it's an election year.

As for costs, APOC estimated under either bill, start up would be about $53,000 and to hire an additional paralegal would be another $79,000.

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