House passes campaign finance changes

Posted: Monday, May 01, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state House has approved a bill that campaign finance reform advocates say would allow corporations and unions to more easily influence Alaska politics, rolling back changes made four years ago in response to a citizens' initiative.

House Bill 225 passed 23-16 on Sunday evening. It passed the Senate 15-5 last week and now heads to the governor.

''Why is it necessary to let unions and corporations back into fund raising?'' said Rep. Andrew Halcro, R-Anchorage, referring to a provision in the bill that lets companies spend up to $1,000 a year to sponsor political party events.

David Finkelstein, one of the initiative's authors, calls that a ''soft money loophole.'' Corporations or unions can pay for food, hall rental and other costs for events where large amounts of money can be raised and then channeled to candidates, he said.

''This is nothing more than opening that door again,'' Halcro said.

Another provision Halcro said he opposes is a section that increases the amount of leftover campaign contributions that candidates elected to the Legislature can drop into their office accounts.

A candidate for Senate could transfer up to $40,000 under the bill -- double the current limit. A House candidate could roll $16,000 in leftover funds, up from the current $10,000.

The bill amounts to ''an incumbency protection act,'' Halcro said, because it allows people in office to amass more money than those just entering politics. The money is often used by legislators seeking other offices to send out newsletters or take out ads in newspapers.

The bill also allows candidates for governor to start raising money almost four years before the election, instead of the current 18 months.

Rep. Richard Foster, D-Nome, said candidates who campaign in the Bush must travel long distances to isolated villages to reach their constituents and so the increase in support is welcome.

''One representative has 80 or 90 villages in a district the size of Texas,'' Foster said.

Rep. Ramona Barnes, R-Anchorage, agreed and said some candidates must work harder than others.

''Not all of us are born with a silver spoon in our mouths,'' she said, perhaps in reference to Halcro's affluent background.

Halcro shot out of his chair and called Barnes' comment out of line.

Barnes snapped back: ''Maybe he has a guilty conscience, because I never mentioned his name.''

Rep. Gail Phillips, R-Homer, said the bill does not change the amount of money that a candidate can raise and said that although corporations can now pay to put on functions, they can't contribute directly to candidates.

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