Knowles vetoes campaign finance changes

Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles vetoed a bill Thursday that would have loosened parts of Alaska's campaign finance restrictions.

House Bill 225, sponsored by House Rules Committee Chairman John Cowdery, would have extended the amount of time candidates could raise money to run for governor from 18 months before the election to nearly four years.

That would have rolled back one of the restrictions imposed by a sweeping campaign finance reform law the Legislature passed in 1996 when faced with a citizens initiative that was headed for the ballot that year.

Knowles said that change would have effectively doubled the amount candidates could receive from each donor to $2,000 under the state's $500 yearly contribution limit.

''Alaska has the nation's toughest campaign finance law, and I aim to keep it that way,'' Knowles said. ''Alaskans want less money, not more, involved in their political campaigns.''

The measure also would have allowed corporations and unions to spend up to $1,000 a year to sponsor political party events. Such organizations were banned from donating to parties or candidates under the 1996 law.

Another provision would have increased the amount of campaign money lawmakers can transfer to office accounts from $20,000 to $40,000 for senators and from $10,000 to $16,000 for members of the House. Knowles denounced the change as a protection for incumbents.

''There's no benefit to average Alaskans from these changes,'' Knowles said.

Cowdery accused the governor of political grandstanding for vetoing a bill that was mostly intended to clean up the campaign finance law.

''One provision he opposed would make it easier for people who want to run for governor to raise money against an incumbent governor,'' said Cowdery, R-Anchorage. ''He couldn't resist the demagoguery.''

Some supporters of the bill advocated it as away for candidates to overcome the use of personal wealth in campaigns, which is not restricted by the 1996 law.

In 1998, John Lindauer used his rich second wife's money for a lavish campaign for governor. He won the Republican primary, defeating two candidates who complained they were hamstrung by the contribution limits and the short fund-raising season. Lindauer's campaign later self-destructed when the truth about the source of the money came out. Knowles, a Democrat, won re-election easily.

The sponsors of the 1996 initiative applauded Knowles' veto, calling HB 225 the most serious threat the law has faced since 1996.

''Vetoing HB 225 keeps faith with the thousands of Alaskans who signed the initiative petition and who support a cleaner, more democratic election system,'' Mike Frank and David Finkelstein of Campaign Finance Reform Now! wrote.

The bill did not receive enough votes in the Legislature to override a veto, and lawmakers are unlikely to call themselves back into special session to consider such a move.

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