When more is better

Posted: Monday, October 30, 2000

The following editorial appeared in Saturdays Anchorage Daily News:

Alaska Conservation Voters, a coalition of environmental groups, decided Friday to disclose more information about the sources for their political funding.

Thats good for them and good for Alaska voters.

The group took some heat from the Republican Party over its help to Democratic state House candidate Mark Handy and its earlier refusal to disclose its funding sources.

Well let the Alaska Public Offices Commission settle the campaign complaint.

As for campaign finance disclosure, we have a simple principle: more is better.

The law does not require ACV to make those disclosures. No matter what the law says, our political process is healthier when we know whos paying the campaign bills.

ACV is a new political animal in a state made up mostly of familiar conservation organizations, ranging from Greenpeace to Friends of Potter Marsh to the National Audubon Society. Theres nothing secret about their mission. As former director Kay Brown said, they aim to get conservation-minded people elected to office. They also want to defeat Proposition 1, the ban on wildlife management initiatives, and pass Proposition 6, the ban on same-day, land-and-shoot wolf hunting.

An April 1999 state Supreme Court ruling allowed qualified nonprofit corporations to make political contributions provided they meet certain criteria. The idea was to allow people with common ideas to pool their money and make a difference in the political process. So far, ACV is the only such outfit in the state.

ACV may contribute as much as $1,000 directly to a candidate. It also may give unlimited support to any candidate on its own, provided it does so without that candidates coordination, cooperation or consent, according to Shelley Ebenal, assistant director of the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Further, ACV may spend as much as it can raise to campaign for or against ballot measures.

ACV director Mary Core disclosed Friday that the groups political funds broke down this way: The Alaska Conservation Alliance gave $75,000 and the Alaska Conservation Foundation gave $120,600. The group can use the money for public education, lobbying on legislation or ballot measures. But the money cannot be used for individual candidates. Thats $195,600 in restricted money.

Conservation Strategies, bankrolled by Seattle software millionaire Paul Brainerd, gave $150,000 in money that can be used for any political purpose, within the nonprofit rules. Ms. Core also said that 3,048 members and other individual donors including 80 from outside Alaska gave $108,441 that can be used for any political purpose. Thats $258,441 that could be used to support individual candidates.

Restrictions depend in part on the tax status of the donors.

A board of 19 members, all Alaskans, decides how the money is spent.

All told, ACV has more than $450,000 in potential political money. Thats why were glad ACV has decided to release more information about the sources of its money. Wed like a more detailed, easily read breakdown.

To keep things in perspective, Alaska Conservation Voters has hardly become the biggest player in the political game. But it has become a potent one, judging by the attention of its political foes. As Ms. Ebenal said, more groups built along the lines of ACV are likely to form all the more reason to be clear about what they can and cant do.

Ms. Ebenal added that the creation of qualified nonprofit corporations as political entities has led the public offices commission into uncharted territory. As she and her colleagues draw the lines, let the need for full disclosure and plain rules guide their hands.

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