The Alaska Public Offices Commission took on the issue of soft money in political campaigns Monday by considering new rules forcing disclosure and sanctioning a soft money group that ran ads critical of Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer.
For more Juneau Empire coverage of the November 5 general election, please visit the Juneau Empire Elections Guide.
The commission, Alaska's campaign finance watchdog agency, agreed to consider new rules requiring state political parties to divulge how they spend campaign contributions aimed at party-building expenses.
But it turned down a request from an attorney and a former lawmaker to fast-track the rules in time for the Nov. 5 general election.
In a 4-1 vote, the commission agreed to take up new rules that require political parties to report contributions and services offered for party expenses.
But it rejected the request from attorney Mike Frank and former lawmaker David Finkelstein to implement emergency regulations to require parties to divulge their soft-money spending before the election.
The proposed rules will have to go through a 30-day public comment period and be acted upon at a special meeting.
"In the long term if the regulation passes it will help in future elections," Frank said. "In the short term, I don't think it's going to help."
Commissioner Larry Wood voted against the measure, arguing it should be left to the Legislature to adopt new soft money rules.
In a separate ruling, the commission ordered staff to determine what sanctions should be imposed against a nonprofit group that aired television spots critical of Ulmer, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles.
But the commission dismissed allegations Republican candidate for governor Frank Murkowski had any ties to the group.
Americans for Job Security, a Virginia-based nonprofit group that has aided other Republican candidates, aired several issue ads critical of the way Knowles and Ulmer have managed the state's economy.
Separate complaints filed by John Alexander and John Robertson allege the ads were attempts to attack Ulmer's gubernatorial bid and that Murkowski's campaign aided the group and benefited from the ads.
Robertson also alleged Monday that a business owned by Murkowski Campaign Manager Gregg Renkes listed Americans for Job Security as a client.
Renkes did not attend the meeting. But Tim McKeever, attorney for the Murkowski campaign, questioned whether the information involving Renkes' campaign consulting business was current.
McKeever said former Murkowski Campaign Manager Bill Gordon and consultant Art Hackney had brief discussions with representatives from Americans for Job Security but did not discuss campaign strategy.
Gordon gave the group a public document produced by the University of Alaska's Institute of Social and Economic Research, McKeever said. He also said Murkowski pollster David Dittman also discouraged the group from running ads in Alaska.
Americans for Job Security argued in a letter to the commission that it did not have to disclose who paid for the issue ads since they take no position in the election. The ads did not mention Murkowski and did not urge viewers to vote against Ulmer.
But Commissioner John Dapcevich said the ads were a veiled attack on Ulmer's ability to govern. The commission voted 3-2 to direct its staff to consider sanctions against the group for not filing campaign disclosure reports.
Commissioners Wood and Sheila Gallagher, both Republican members of the board, voted against the motion. Wood argued the board had no evidence the television spots were aimed at influencing the election.
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