ANCHORAGE - Corporations are donating more money to state political parties in the wake of a federal judge's ruling that legalized so-called soft money contributions.
The cruise ship industry has written the Republicans checks totaling $75,000 in the past month, most of the $90,000 the party has raised since the ruling, said GOP Chairman Randy Ruedrich. The insurance and oil industries have also contributed several thousand dollars, according to the party and filings with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
Holland America, Princess and Royal Caribbean have donated $25,000 each to the Republican Party since June 15, Ruedrich said. Alaska National Insurance Co. gave $10,000 and $5,000 came from Tesoro.
Joelle Hall, treasurer for the Alaska Democratic Party, said her organization has raised far less - $5,000 from Tesoro.
Soft money is cash used for party-related activities, as opposed to contributions made directly to candidates.
"This is an opportunity to do something. It's the first time in five-plus years that the Republicans or Democrats have had the right to solicit corporate or union funds," said Ruedrich.
The Republicans ramped up their corporate fund-raising in recent weeks, Ruedrich said, after U.S. District Judge James Singleton struck down major sections of Alaska's campaign finance law, which passed in 1996.
The judge ruled June 11 that corporations and labor unions can contribute unlimited amounts of money to political parties as long as the cash is not targeted for specific candidates.
Singleton left in place the ban against corporate contributions to individual candidates.
In April, Singleton also ruled that the $5,000 cap on individual contributions to parties was unconstitutional if the money is used for "party-building" activities such as voter registration drives and not for candidates. He also said lawyers, media consultants and other people can contribute an unlimited number of professional services, finding that Alaska's limit of $5,000 on such in-kind donations was unconstitutional.
The state attorney general's office has appealed the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said Martin Schultz, assistant attorney general.
Critics said Singleton gutted campaign finance reform in Alaska and gave individuals and groups with deep pockets undue influence.
"It's pretty amazing to me that the ink was barely dry on the ruling and the corporations are taking advantage of their superior status with the money they're able to donate to the political realm," said Steve Cleary, development director of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group.
It's appalling, Cleary said, that within weeks of a special legislative session to tackle cruise ship pollution regulation that the industry would be pouring tens of thousands of dollars into the treasury of the Republicans.
Former North Pole Sen. Mike Miller, vice chairman of the Republican Party, said Cleary's accusations do not hold water. Two powerful backers of cruise ship regulation, Sen. Drue Pearce of Anchorage and Senate President Rick Halford of Chugiak, are Republicans, Miller noted.
"He makes a giant leap with no facts," Miller said.
The AFL-CIO used to contribute to both major political parties, said Mano Frey, president of its Alaska chapter. The labor group will wait to see if Singleton's decision stands before deciding whether to start making political contributions, he said.
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