House approves increased campaign limits

Posted: Tuesday, May 20, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) A bill to double the amount of money people can contribute to state political campaigns was approved by the House on Monday.

But it touched off a bitter fight on the House floor from both Democrats and Republicans who argued that it would derail campaign finance reforms imposed in 1996.

Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, said the measure would strengthen the hold incumbents have on their seats and make it more difficult for newcomers to compete.

''That fellow is still only going to get the $25 and $50 contributions so you have widened the gap and you have put a chilling effect on the democratic process,'' Lynn said.

''To me, it's about the same category as somebody putting in a bill to double our salary. I don't think anybody here would want to do that,'' he said.

Senate Bill 119 would raise campaign contribution limits placed on individual donors, political action committees and parties.

Here's some of the increases:

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

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

Raise from $1,000 to $2,000 a year the amount a political action committee can contribute to a candidate.

Raise from $1,000 to $4,000 a year the amount a political action committee can contribute to a political party.

The bill also makes several changes to the Alaska Public Offices Commission, which is charged with overseeing campaigns.

The agency would hold hearings on election complaints more quickly, have greater latitude in ruling on so-called ''issue ads'' and require electronic reporting by candidates to give the public quicker information on contributions.

Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Anchorage, said the measure also requires candidates to report the names of each person who contributes to a candidate rather than those that give more than $100.

Anderson said the measure is endorsed by the Alaska Public Offices Commission and is meant to adjust the cost of campaigns with inflation.

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.

Murkowski's chief complaint was that the agency moved too slowly in responding to election complaints. The agency had proposed this bill during discussions with the administration.

But critics of the measure say the good done by the bill is overshadowed by the increased limits, which they argue is well in excess of inflation.

They argue the changes repeal elements of a 1996 campaign finance reform law adopted by the Legislature to replace a voter initiative to restrict campaign funding.

Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage, who worked on that ballot initiative, said he would spend this summer trying to get a similar measure back on the ballot.

The bill allows wealthy contributors to contribute more to candidates who may be influenced by their backing. ''That's why I call it the sugar-daddy bill,'' Crawford said.

The measure could come up for another vote in the House under a procedural move. It would then go to the Senate to consider the changes made to the bill.

Two amendments attempting to roll back the contribution limits proposed in the bill failed. Senate Bill 119 passed 22-15.

Reps. Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage; Sharon Cissna, D-Anchorage; Crawford, Les Gara, D-Anchorage; Carl Gatto, R-Palmer; Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage; David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks; Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau; Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla; Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon; Lynn, Carl Moses, D-Unalaska; Dan Ogg, R-Kodiak; Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, voted against the measure.

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