Petition drive challenges new campaign finance law

Measure doubles amount of money candidates can raise from individuals

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2003

A petition drive is being organized to reverse legislative action increasing the amount of money individual donors can give to political campaigns.

Gov. Frank Murkowski this week signed into law Senate Bill 119, which doubles the amount of money candidates and campaigns can raise from individual donors. The law also makes several changes to the Alaska Public Offices Commission, the state agency that oversees campaign contributions, including encouraging electronic filing of campaign reports.

Senate Bill 119 does the following:

• Raises from $500 to $1,000 a year the amount an individual can give to a single candidate or political action committee.

• Raises from $5,000 to $10,000 a year the amount an individual can give to a political party to influence elections.

• Raises from $1,000 to $2,000 a year the amount a political action committee can contribute to a candidate.

• Raises from $1,000 to $4,000 a year the amount a political action committee can contribute to a political party.

Rep. Harry Crawford, an Anchorage Republican, is organizing an initiative petition drive to put the campaign spending issue on the 2004 ballot. Crawford, who voted against the bill Murkowski signed, also was involved in a 1996 voter initiative that prompted the Legislature to set the limits on contributions SB 119 raised.

Crawford said he is in the initial stages of assembling a signature drive and has not decided how broad the initiative question will be.

"Either way, we are going to do a campaign finance reform initiative to roll it back to the former limits, I can guarantee that as much as I am standing here," Crawford said.

The Alaska Public Interest Research Group is considering whether to join the initiative drive, said executive director Steve Cleary.

Monday's bill-signing came less than a week after Murkowski vetoed $449,000 to help APOC require electronic filing of campaign reports.

Critics of the bill said they were surprised by the move.

"For him to take that away and then sign a bill and push for a bill to double the campaign contribution limits is just going to be bad for Alaska politics," said Cleary.

Brooke Miles, APOC executive director, said the administration has identified federal funds to underwrite the electronic filing project.

"I'm confident the project will go forward," she said.

Another provision of the measure would allow APOC to hold hearings on election complaints more quickly and have greater latitude in ruling on so-called "issue ads." The bill also increases the fee charged to lobbyists from $100 per client to $250 per client. Miles said that will raise about $80,000.

The Murkowski administration earlier proposed saving $500,000 by eliminating the commission and having its work transferred to the Division of Elections and the Department of Law.

Murkowski's chief complaint was that the agency moved too slowly in responding to election complaints.

Supporters of the bill say it also forces more disclosure since it would require candidates to report the names of each person who contributes to a campaign. Currently, a candidate must report the name of those who contribute more than $100.

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