State rejects public-funded elections bid

Alaskans for Clean Elections ponders other options for ballot measure

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2007

Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell refused Thursday to certify a proposed ballot initiative for publicly funded elections.

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He said it combined two separate issues and is unconstitutional.

"The initiative did not meet the legal requirements for making it onto the ballot," Parnell said.

Initiative sponsors say they're going to push ahead, however, either appealing the rejection or using a different measure with a more narrow focus.

The initiative advocated by Alaskans for Clean Elections provides public money for state candidates willing to forgo most private contributions. The measure also establishes a three-cent-per-barrel oil tax to pay for the estimated $5 million cost of the program.

Parnell said Thursday the Department of Law advised him that the publicly funded elections and oil tax are considered two separate issues. The Alaska Constitution bars initiatives that address more than one subject.

"Alaska law requires that initiatives be limited to a single topic, and, as this particular initiative addressed both public funding of campaigns and taxation of oil companies, the application itself was faulty and could not be certified."

Alaska's lieutenant governor oversees the Division of Elections and must certify measures before they can be placed on the ballot.

Alaskans for Clean Elections Chairman Tim June of Haines disagreed with Parnell's ruling. He said attorneys his group had review the wording concluded the initiative is constitutional.

"I think we're on pretty solid footing that this does not violate (the single-subject rule), but we're going to look at it and review what our options are," June said.

June said Alaskans for Clean Elections had submitted the initiative petition in May, and had followed closely its review by state attorneys. When it became clear that the Department of Law was concerned that the initiative might violate the single-subject rule, Alaskans for Clean Elections last week submitted a more narrowly focused initiative.

June said the group will have to meet and decide whether to appeal the rejection, or to move forward with the second initiative, without the oil tax funding mechanism.

"We were aware of this concern and covered our bases on this," he said.

June's group has 30 days in which to appeal Parnell's decision in Superior Court.

The advocates of publicly funded elections held a fundraiser for their proposal Monday in Juneau. It had been scheduled to be held in the notorious Room 604 of the Baranof Hotel, where FBI agents say they monitored business executives paying bribes to legislators, but the fundraiser had to be moved at the last minute.

Thursday's ruling came as Alaskans for Clean Elections was organizing a similar event in Anchorage, scheduled to be hosted by former Govs. Walter Hickel and Tony Knowles.

Bills to accomplish the same thing as the ballot measure have been introduced in both the House and Senate.

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