Bill keeps APOC alive, boosts contribution limits

Posted: Wednesday, April 16, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Gov. Frank Murkowski's administration has dropped a plan to do away with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Instead, it's backing a bill that would double the amount of money people can give candidates and have APOC hold quicker hearings on election complaints.

The bill also would loosen the requirements for when people must register as lobbyists and would let lobbyists donate to campaigns outside their election districts.

It would do away with the requirement that candidates for municipal elections report contributions to APOC.

And, Senate Bill 119 would let the commission require candidates to submit reports electronically.

APOC Executive Director Brooke Miles said the bipartisan commission drafted the bill in concert with the administration.

The commission enthusiastically endorses this legislation,'' Miles told the Senate State Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

The Murkowski administration had earlier proposed saving $500,000 by eliminating the commission and having its work transferred to the Division of Elections and the Department of Law.

Steve Cleary of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group said he's glad the commission is not being eliminated, and is pleased with parts of the bill. But he's disturbed by the increase in contribution limits and by the move to let lobbyists give to campaigns outside their districts.

We're just scared that's going to allow lobbyists to lobby with one hand and donate with the other,'' Cleary said.

Those changes repeal elements of a 1996 campaign finance reform law adopted by the Legislature to replace a voter initiative on campaign funding that would have gone on the statewide ballot had the Legislature not acted.

Miles said the lobbyists would still not be allowed to host fund-raisers for candidates or serve as their campaign treasurers.

Department of Administration Commissioner Kevin Jardell said the increase in contribution limits is partly a reflection of inflation.

It's also an attempt to set more realistic contribution limits in hopes of discouraging people from putting their money into soft-money advertisements that cannot be regulated, he said.

The last campaign, we saw more money being expended with less disclosure,'' Jardell said. A lot of it was pushed outside.''

The bill would:

- Raise from $500 to $1,000 a year the amount an individual can give a candidate or political action committee;

- Raise from $5,000 to $10,000 a year the amount an individual can give a political party to influence elections.

- Raise from $1,000 to $5,000 a year the amount a political action committee can contribute to a candidate.

- Raise from $1,000 to $10,000 a year the amount a political action committee can contribute to a political party.

- Raise from $500 to $1,000 a year the amount a nonprofit group, such as Alaska Conservation Voters, can contribute to a candidate, political action committee or political party.

The bill would also allow APOC to expedite hearings on election complaints if the alleged violations could materially affect the outcome of an election and cause irreparable harm. APOC would have the power to issue cease and desist orders in such cases.

The measure also sets deadlines for APOC to respond to complaints that don't receive expedited treatment.

Those provisions are intended to address Murkowski's contention that APOC should be eliminated because the commission acts so slowly that elections have been decided by the time it issues decisions on complaints.

Miles said the commission should be able to make those changes without an increase in its budget because it will save staff time once candidates are required to submit reports electronically.

The administration has requested $450,000 in the coming year's budget to upgrade APOC's computer system so it can require electronic reports.

Miles guessed the commission might also save $5,000 or more a year by no longer handling municipal election reporting requirements.

The bill also changes the definition of a lobbyist. Currently, a person who is paid to spend more than four hours in a 30-day period trying to influence the Legislature or administration must register as a lobbyist. Under the bill, such people would not have to register unless they spent more than 16 hours in a month lobbying.

The bill also loosens financial disclosure requirements for legislators. Now they must disclose most sources of income over $1,000 and gifts over $250. The bill would raise the level at which they must make a disclosure to $10,000 for most sources of income and $500 for gifts.

The bill passed the State Affairs Committee on Tuesday and now goes to the Senate Finance Committee.

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