Alaska editorial: Support initiative to cap campaign donations

Posted: Tuesday, December 07, 2004

This editorial appeared in Thursday'd Anchorage Daily News:

Unless the Alaska Legislature gets the message sooner, in 2006 Alaska voters should rein in lax campaign spending and lobbying rules lawmakers treated themselves to in 2003.

Lt. Gov. Loren Leman has certified the signatures for an initiative to appear on the general election ballot that would:

• Cut maximum individual donations to candidates from $1,000 to $500;

• Cut maximum individual donations to political parties from $10,000 to $5,000;

• Cut maximum political action committee donations from $2,000 to $1,000;

• Require lobbyists to register with the Alaska Public Offices Commission after spending more than 10 hours a month directly lobbying lawmakers. Now, they don't have to register until they've logged 40 hours of lobbying.

In loosening the campaign spending and lobbying laws, lawmakers looked out for themselves and the lobbying business - and increased the potential for money's corrupting influence in Alaska politics. Higher contribution limits give special interests more power in determining who gets elected and reinforce incumbents' advantages - hence one description of the 2003 legislation as an incumbency protection act. It's worth noting here that every single incumbent on last month's general election ballot won re-election.

On the lobbying side, the public can know less about who is paying whom to court lawmakers, who's driving deals and what those deals mean to the public. A well-financed lobbyist could spend a very productive 36 hours working the Legislature, and Alaskans wouldn't have a clue.

That means less accountability, less transparency, more public business done out of the public view.

Evidently that's fine with many in the Legislature. Evidently that's not fine with tens of thousands of Alaskans, who signed petitions to put the initiative on the ballot. Alaskans don't need lawmakers to take care of their own political futures and draw a veil over special-interest lobbying.

We've been here before. In 1996, another campaign spending initiative prompted the Legislature to curb campaign contributions before voters did it for them. Maybe current lawmakers will follow suit.

If not, voters should lay down the law for them in 2006.

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