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My turn: Big Money needs to get out of Alaska politics

Posted: Friday, August 18, 2006

When was the last time that you wrote a $1,000 check to a political candidate? How about a $10,000 check to the political party of your choice? If you're like most Alaskans, the answer is never. Yet wealthy, special interests who can write large checks to candidates and political parties are unduly influencing Alaska politics.

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These special interests keep dumping more money into elections, but it's not resulting in more democracy in our state.

That's why AkPIRG - along with Ballot Measure 1 sponsors Reps. David Guttenberg, Harry Crawford and Eric Croft - and average citizens across the state, are pushing to get Big Money out of Alaska politics. That's exactly what Ballot Measure 1 will do by restoring common sense campaign contribution limits.

The Alaska Legislature saw the writing on the wall in 1996 after a successful effort put campaign finance reform on the ballot. Lawmakers passed a bill that put in place sensible campaign contribution limits to help hold back the rising tide of campaign cash and the corrupting influence it has. But, sadly those limits were doubled in 2003 by Gov. Murkowski and some legislators.

In the Tuesday primary, Alaskans voters will again have their say in the matter. More than 36,000 Alaskans signed the petition to put Campaign Finance Reform Again on the ballot, 13,000 more than required by the Division of Elections. Alaskans know that more money in political campaigns isn't leading to more discourse on issues. It is leading to more attack ads and lower voter turnout. We want to put people back into politics by taking Big Money out. We believe that candidates should look to 1,000 Alaskans who could donate $50 dollars, rather than relying on 50 wealthy donors who can donate $1,000.

Opponents of Ballot Measure 1 claim that it will protect incumbents by taking away the ability of a challenger to raise money in $1,000 increments. Yet incumbents already have the overwhelming advantage in fundraising. They are connected with the interests that can and will donate $1,000 at the drop of a hat. Ballot Measure 1 will help level the playing field by lowering contribution limits so that challengers will be able to better keep up with incumbents.

In addition to these important Campaign Finance Reforms, Ballot Measure 1 includes two other important reforms that will help restore public confidence in the legislative process in Juneau. First, it will require legislators to disclose any income of more than $1,000. Alaska's citizen legislature is a hallmark of participatory government, but to hold those members accountable, Alaskans need to know where their income comes from. This simple disclosure measure will guarantee that Alaskans have that knowledge.

Ballot Measure 1 also tightens the regulations on lobbyists. This necessary reform will make certain that lobbyists in Juneau will not be able to slide under the radar with out having to disclose who is paying them. More importantly, lobbyists are only allowed to donate to their own Senate and House member, and not all 60 members - for obvious reasons. The law needs to be tightened and Ballot Measure 1 will do that.

Opponents of the measure have continued to wrongly assert that a small business person who registers as a lobbyist will have to disclose his or her client list. The Alaska Public Offices Commission has stated that this is not the case. The opposition hides behind small business when it is actually looking out for large, corporate interests who want to keep their influence in Juneau.

AkPIRG's survey of all 14 Governor candidates showed support across the board for Ballot Measure 1. Republican Sarah Palin, Independent Andrew Halcro and Democrats Eric Croft and Tony Knowles all support Ballot Measure 1.

It's time to pass this common sense initiative to take back our democracy. Our bumper sticker says it all: "Big Money out of Alaska Politics!" Please vote Yes on 1 on Tuesday, and help restore citizen faith in government.

• Steve Cleary is director of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group in Anchorage.



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