Legal review could keep campaign limits off ballot

Posted: Monday, August 25, 2003

ANCHORAGE - Backers of an initiative to tighten Alaska's limits on campaign contributions and lobbyists say a lengthy legal review could keep the question off next year's ballot.

Rep. Les Gara, an attorney and Anchorage Democrat who is pushing the initiative, sent a letter to the attorney general asking that the petition be approved immediately so signatures can be gathered at the Alaska State Fair.

Gara says a protracted review is unnecessary.

"Given that the petition's provisions are clearly constitutional, no further legal review is needed by your office," Gara wrote.

A group of Democratic legislators filed the application for a ballot petition with the lieutenant governor's office on Aug. 6. The petition application was sent to the Department of Law the following week.

To get the question on the 2004 ballot, the sponsors need to collect 23,286 signatures by the start of the next legislative session in mid-January. The number is equivalent to 10 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.

State attorneys must review the language and form of initiative petitions and determine whether they are constitutional and concern issues that may be addressed by initiative.

"For them to give us an application in mid- to late August and expect a complete review and determination before Sept. 1 is not reasonable," said Sarah Felix, the assistant attorney general who is reviewing the petition.

Felix said she doesn't know how long that will take.

Attorney General Gregg Renkes is considering Gara's letter. He could ask Felix to focus on the petition, perhaps hastening the process.

The initiative seeks to roll back actions the Legislature took this spring. Lawmakers voted to double the limits on campaign contributions - from $500 to $1,000, for individual contributors - and to allow people to spend up to 40 hours a month trying to influence legislation before they have to register as a lobbyist.

The petition was not filed until August because the sponsors and their supporters had to agree on which of the legislative actions to target and craft the ballot language, said David Finkelstein, a volunteer consultant for the petition effort.

Finkelstein is a former Anchorage state representative who was a leader in the 1995 campaign finance reform initiative that resulted in tighter limits on campaign contributions. It was those limits that the Legislature rolled back this spring.

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