In the waning hours of the legislative session, lawmakers made sure all the most powerful players in the upcoming elections will have to be on the scorecard. There was little doubt that Senate Bill 284 would pass both houses. The bill was a response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in January that gave corporations, unions and other groups the same free speech rights as individuals in elections - and the right to spend freely in expressing them.
The effect of the decision was to increase the power and reach of those with the deepest pockets.
The Alaska Legislature can't change the law of the land in the United States. But it can and did require that those who take advantage of the court's decision in Alaska do so in plain view, both in reports to the Alaska Public Offices Commission and in campaign advertising.
Such organizations have to identify themselves by name and identify their officers and their top contributors.
The Legislature also approved House Bill 36, requiring disclosure by those for or against a ballot initiative, requiring public hearings on any initiative and requiring signature gatherers to carry a copy of the initiative so prospective signers will know what they're signing to support. These are good measures.
A brief debate over a House floor amendment to SB 284 by Rep. Les Gara brought into sharp relief who benefits by this bill.
Reps. Tammie Wilson and Jay Ramras objected to the requirement that television ads include not just a written description of top contributors but audio listing the top three contributors to the ad. They said TV time was expensive, and that smaller organizations would have to squander precious seconds on what they felt was redundant or even unnecessary disclosure.
Rep. Max Gruenberg countered that both the bill and amendment were made to serve the wider public interest, not the interests of any particular group.
Rep. Gruenberg had it right - the more disclosure, the better. The amendment passed 23-17; the final bill, 40-0. The Senate concurred, 20-0. Just in time for the 2010 campaign.
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