Anti-abortion group sues over campaign law

Right to Life says disclosure laws violate the First Amendment

Posted: Monday, November 25, 2002

FAIRBANKS - The Alaska Right to Life Committee has filed a lawsuit in federal court charging that some Alaska campaign disclosure laws violate the First Amendment.

The lawsuit, filed on Nov. 4 against Alaska Public Offices Commission director Brooke Miles and the five members of the commission, refers to laws passed by the Alaska Legislature this spring and enforced by APOC that regulate electioneering communications.

The law requires organizations that produce such communications within 30 days of a general election to register with APOC, report the expenditures involved, and disclose their identities in the ad or communication.

The lawsuit argues that the rules are too broad and thus can encompass issue advocacy, which is protected by the Constitution.

The case specifically deals with a telephone campaign the anti-abortion group had planned to mount shortly before the Nov. 5 election. Once people identified themselves as anti-abortion over the phone, marketers would briefly discuss the abortion policies of gubernatorial candidates Frank Murkowski and Fran Ulmer.

The callers would not have explicitly endorsed a candidate but would have noted that "Frank Murkowski supports Alaska Right to Life's pro-life vision."

According to the suit, the group was told by APOC officials that due to the nature of the campaign, they would be allowed to fund and direct it only through their political action committee, not through the organization itself. The campaign never got off the ground.

The main legal representation for the right-to-life group is being supplied by the James Madison Center, an Indiana-based organization that has been involved in dozens of campaign-related lawsuits in various states and on the federal level. Anchorage lawyer Ken Jacobus also is involved.

The suit asks that the specific sections of campaign finance laws affecting the group be declared unconstitutional and that the state be prevented from enforcing them against the group.

Department of Law attorney Mike Mitchell, who is handling the suit for APOC, said the state basically has a different interpretation of legal precedent.

"We don't read the cases the same as they do," he said.

Mitchell said he sees the case ultimately revolving around whether or not the telemarketing constituted a direct endorsement of Murkowski.

"I guess it comes down to whether that implication is sufficiently strong that it is, in essence, express advocacy," he said.

Mitchell said he expects APOC to file a response in the case today. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline. But it's likely to end up decided by an appeals court.

Miles, head of APOC, said she wasn't surprised at the lawsuit, because such suits frequently appear after changes in state statute. Election law, she said, is an exceedingly complicated topic and reaching specific conclusions can be a challenge.

"It's such an evolving area of law," she said. "Sometimes you get the sense of trying to nail Jell-O to the wall or something."

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