Judge lifts limit on campaign contributions

Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2001

ANCHORAGE Alaska's $5,000 limit on contributions to a political party violates rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, a federal judge has ruled.

Individual Alaskans can give as much time and money as they want to political parties or groups as long as no more than $5,000 of the contribution is earmarked to help get candidates elected, said U.S. District Judge James Singleton in a decision signed Tuesday.

Limits on contributions to specific candidates are acceptable because there is a legitimate concern about corruption and improper influence, Singleton said. But there is no such concern regarding contributions to political parties of so-called soft money intended for administrative costs, issue advocacy and voter registration.

"It is clear that restricting donations to political parties for purposes unrelated to nominating or electing candidates ... significantly interferes with the protected rights of speech and association," the judge wrote in a 16-page order barring the state from enforcing several provisions of the 1997 law.

Singleton also threw out limits on how much time a person may volunteer to a political party. This part of the ruling was of particular interest to Anchorage attorney Ken Jacobus, who has served for years without charge as the Republican Party lawyer. He had been warned by the Alaska Public Offices Commission, the state campaign watchdog agency, that his work for the party appeared to constitute an illegal contribution.

"I'm not a crook anymore," Jacobus said Wednesday after the decision was released. "I've been a crook since 1997."

Jacobus, attorney and former Republican candidate for governor Wayne Anthony Ross and Libertarian Scott Kohlhaas challenged the contribution restriction law shortly after it went into effect in 1997.

Their lawsuit focused on sections of the law limiting contributions to parties. Although they won on the question of individual contributions, they lost the argument against limiting corporate contributions. Singleton said limits on corporate contributions to both candidates and parties have been upheld by the Alaska and the U.S. Supreme Courts.

Jacobus said he and the other challengers will ask Singleton to reconsider that portion of his finding.

Singleton's ruling is seen as a loss for the state, which has fought in state and federal court to retain all the limits set out in the 1997 contributions reform law. State Assistant Attorney General Martin Schultz said his office is considering a variety of responses to Singleton's ruling.

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