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Murkowski signs campaign finance bill

Posted: Wednesday, June 18, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Gov. Frank Murkowski signed into law a bill to double the amount of money political campaigns may receive from individual donors.

The law also makes several changes to the state agency that oversees campaign contributions, including allowing for electronic filing of campaign reports. But Monday's bill signing comes less than a week after Murkowski vetoed $449,000 to allow the Alaska Public Offices Commission to require electronic filing of campaign reports.

Critics of the bill said they were surprised by the move.

''For him to take that away and then sign a bill and push for a bill to double the campaign contribution limits is just going to be bad for Alaska politics,'' said Steve Cleary, executive director for the Alaska Public Interest Research Group.

Cleary said Tuesday AkPIRG is considering whether to join a proposed initiative drive to roll back the changes in the campaign finance laws approved by the Legislature.

Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage, is organizing a citizen initiative to put the issue on the 2004 ballot. Crawford, who voted against the bill Murkowski signed, was also involved in a 1996 voter initiative that prompted the Legislature to set the current limits on contributing.

Crawford said he is in the initial stages of assembling a signature drive and has not decided how broad the initiative question will be.

''Either way, we are going to do a campaign finance reform initiative to roll it back to the former limits, I can guarantee that as much as I am standing here,'' Crawford said.

The bill signed into law Monday, Senate Bill 119, does the following:

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

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

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

Raises 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 allow for electronic filing.

Brooke Miles, executive director for the Alaska Public Offices Commission, said the administration has identified federal funds to underwrite the electronic filing project.

Miles said she did not have the details of that, but said ''I'm confident the project will go forward.''

The bill also increases the fee charged to lobbyists from $100 per client to $250 per client. Miles said that will raise about $80,000.

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.

Supporters of the bill say it also forces more disclosure since it would require candidates to report the names of each person who contributes to a campaign. Currently, a candidate must report the name of those who contribute more than $100.

Cleary, and other opponents of the measure, say it will have a chilling effect on challengers trying to raise scarce funds and will aid incumbents. In addition, an earlier measure that allows lobbyists to give to candidates outside their districts will act to increase the role of special interests in elections, Cleary said.

''It's just going to shower more money into the political system here in Alaska,'' Cleary said. ''It was a major setback for the people of Alaska.''



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