Campaign finance bills draw vetoes

Governor kills bill allowing unlimited soft money contributions

Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2001

Gov. Tony Knowles vetoed two campaign finance bills Wednesday, both stemming from recent court rulings.

One measure would have allowed so-called "soft money" contributions to political parties and the other would have placed new spending limits on groups such as Alaska Conservation Voters.

Senate Bill 103 would have allowed individuals to make unlimited contributions to political parties as long as they were earmarked for party expenses not tied to a specific candidate's campaign. Such contributions are commonly known as soft money. Contributions for use in a specific campaign are limited to $5,000.

The bill would have allowed professionals, such as lawyers and media consultants, to provide unlimited services to campaigns without reporting the value of those contributions.

"By allowing soft money and unlimited donations of professional services, the Legislature has turned its back on campaign finance reform," Knowles said.

The provisions that drew Knowles' objections were added to the bill late in the legislative session in response to a ruling by U.S. District Judge James Singleton. The ruling said individuals and corporations can give as much time and money as they like to political parties or groups, as long as no more than $5,000 of the contribution is earmarked to help get candidates elected.

Alaska Public Offices Commission Director Brooke Miles said immediate legislative response to the ruling was not necessary because the judge was already requiring the commission to comply with the decision.

The state has appealed Singleton's ruling. Knowles said the bill would have locked in the change if an appeal reversed the decision.

The bill was sponsored by the Senate State Affairs Committee. Chairman Gene Therriault, a North Pole Republican, could not be reached for comment.

House Bill 177, sponsored by House Rules Committee Chairman and Eagle River Republican Pete Kott, was also vetoed. It was intended to rein in campaign spending by Alaska Conservation Voters, a group that had been allowed to operate under different rules from political action committees because of a 1999 Alaska Supreme Court ruling.

The court determined groups that meet several criteria, including being independent from the influence of corporations, have a unique status and should be treated differently than those with business interests. Only one group, Alaska Conservation Voters, has taken advantage of that ruling.

During the November 2000 general election campaign, Alaska Conservation Voters was able to transfer money from its general account to campaign accounts without disclosing the names of its general account contributors.

The bill was intended to close that loophole, Kott has said. He could not be reached for comment.

Miles of APOC said the bill went beyond limits placed on most political action committees, which can contribute up to $1,000 to campaigns. House Bill 177 would have limited groups such as the conservation voters to $500 contributions, the same limit placed on individuals.

"This bill takes an unwise approach to our campaign finance laws, targeting and treating differently one entity that is clearly permitted by the law and courts to participate in elections," Knowles said in his veto letter.

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