House rejects soft-money provision

Posted: Sunday, May 15, 2005

A committee of House and Senate members removed a provision from a sweeping elections bill Saturday that would have allowed corporations to give unlimited soft-money contributions to political parties.

The provision was added to the House bill last week by Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, and approved by the Senate.

The House rejected the amended version of the bill Friday, sending it to a conference committee for members of both bodies to work out the differences.

The conference committee met for less than three minutes, introduced a substitute version of the bill that deleted the soft-money provision and approved it with little discussion.

Lawmakers opposing the provision have argued that it would corrupt the political process, making candidates and parties beholden to corporate and union interests.

Therriault, who served as one of three senators on the committee, said in an interview that the donations would have been reported to state campaign finance regulators and would help party-building efforts.

He said soft-money donations already are allowed in federal elections through so-called 527 groups. The 527s are named after a section in the Internal Revenue Service tax code under which they must register.

Therriault said he hoped that allowing soft-money contributions would encourage donors to redirect their contributions to the parties instead of 527 groups.

"We may be back next year," Therriault said, adding that he does not have any specific plan to introduce the proposal as a bill.

Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, who opposed the soft-money provision, said allowing the donations would not have stopped the activities of 527 groups. It simply would have allowed more money into the political process from tobacco, oil and cruise ship companies, Gruenberg said.

He said that although the soft-money would not have been used directly in campaigns, it would have allowed the parties to conduct polling and other services to help candidates.

Gruenberg said he believes the soft-money provision would have been made illegal again through a statewide ballot initiative.

"I'm sure they would have gotten the number of signatures they needed in a heartbeat," he said.

The bill now heads back to the House and Senate for approval, but the bill cannot be further amended. If rejected by either body, it would either die or be sent to another conference committee.

The bill is House Bill 94.

Murkowski added it to the agenda of the special session but would not directly say whether he supported the soft-money provision when questioned by reporters.

Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, said to approve the bill in a special session without public input would show that politicians are controlled by corporate interests.

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