Campaign disclosure should be improved

Posted: Monday, May 01, 2000

Recently the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider the appeal by the Alaska Civil Liberties Union after the Alaska Supreme Court upheld the state's initiative-driven 1996 legislation placing restrictions on campaign contributions.

Without going into detail, both courts determined the possibility and appearance of corruption would more likely undermine our system of representative democracy than would put limits on contributions to candidates or political organizations. These decisions are critical to bringing integrity back into our election process.

Now that peoples' wishes have been defended by the courts, can we relax and be assured that faith in our political system will be restored regardless of the $12 million received by Alaska's lobbyists each year? Can we ignore House Bill 179 that attempts to unravel gains made to improve integrity in our election process or House BilI 225 that weakens the peoples initiative?

Past studies have found the public has little trust and confidence in the integrity of the Alaska legislative process. Policy-makers need to establish a ``tone at the top'' consistent with the high ``appearance'' standards established in the court decisions. Present loopholes in our campaign laws continue to exist and associations between lawmakers and lobbyists are still questioned in the press.

Alaska law rationalizes that public disclosure by those contributing and receiving campaign money is adequate for the public to measure the degree of influence-peddling that occurs. Yet, timely money-changing information isn't available to measure the lobbyist influence that has apparently sunk SB 273 requiring the cruise industry to become more environmentally responsible. The law continues to allow major contributors and professional lobbyists to fence ``soft money'' through any one of 220 political organizations to candidates as well as permit professional lobbyists to employ each other. Such practices renders the restriction on contributions outside ones voting district useless and clouds any paper trail of influence-buying.

The Legislature and the governor should provide appropriate funding for the Alaska Public Offices Commission, which acts as campaign watchdog. In addition to insuring the public has timely access to campaign activity reports, the commission should publish sequence and timing analyses of contributions to soft money groups and who benefits from those contributions and also report changing trends in professional lobbyist contributions. At a minimum, this information should be made available on the Web as well as filed in all legislative information offices and libraries throughout the state.

Merle Jenson Juneau

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