Knowles vetoes political issue ads bill

Posted: Thursday, June 20, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles on Wednesday vetoed a bill dealing with political issue advertisements, saying it created a loophole for groups to influence elections without following campaign finance laws.

The bill would have defined when those paying for issue advertisements -- which don't specifically urge a vote for a candidate -- must disclose funding sources and abide by other campaign rules.

Knowles said Senate Bill 363 was worse than no bill.

''I'm giving a future Legislature, or most likely Alaskans through the initiative process, the opportunity to do it right,'' Knowles said at a news conference.

Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, who pushed the bill in the Senate, said Knowles is wrong when he says the bill would weaken current law.

''I think the governor doesn't know what he's talking about,'' Therriault said. ''It enhanced the existing law, maybe not as far as the governor wished, but it in no way detracted from our current campaign financing law.''

Therriault said he will consider asking his colleagues to override the governor's veto when they arrive in Juneau next week for a special legislative session.

The bill passed the House 27-9 and the Senate 20-0. The Legislature can override a veto with a two-thirds vote.

Alaska law allows corporations or groups to spend freely on advertising to promote or oppose issues. But spending on behalf of candidates is regulated.

As passed by the Senate, Senate Bill 363 would have regulated issue ads if their only reasonable interpretation could be a call to vote for or against a specific candidate. An ad would not need to include words such as ''vote for,'' if the intent was clear.

But the House version of the bill -- and the one that finally passed the full Legislature -- generally would have regulated those advertisements only if they explicitly advocated election or defeat of a candidate.

''That's a loophole you can filter a lot of unaccounted-for campaign cash through,'' Knowles said.

David Finkelstein, a former Democratic lawmaker, who has been an advocate for tougher campaign finance laws, agreed with Knowles.

''You can do a lot of damage without saying vote for or against somebody,'' Finkelstein said.

The bill would also have regulated ads that attribute a position to a candidate, but only those running within 30 days of a general or municipal election.

Therriault acknowledged the bill that ultimately passed was weaker than the Senate version. He said legislators feared if they went too far the bill would be overturned by courts on constitutional free speech grounds.

Brooke Miles, director of the Alaska Public Offices Commission, said Alaska has no laws dealing with political issue advertising now, other than court decisions.

Knowles said the state would be better off with that ambiguity than with the more specific provisions in the bill.

Finkelstein also said he believes the bill would weaken the state's ability to regulate such advertising. He said he doesn't fault Therriault because the bill initially would have strengthened the law.

''The original motivation was to get control of these issue ads,'' Finkelstein said. ''It got railroaded along the way and ended up weaker than the original version.''

The changes Knowles objected to were made in the House Rules Committee. Committee Chairman Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, did not return a phone call Wednesday afternoon.

Knowles used the news conference announcing his veto to once again rail against advertisements run by an Alexandria, Va., group, Americans for Job Security, that have been critical of the Knowles-Ulmer administration's handling of the economy.

The group has said it need not disclose sources of its funding because the television spots are issue ads and don't advocate election of a particular candidate.

This is the third news conference, in addition to other press contacts on the issue, at which an official of the Knowles-Ulmer administration has criticized the advertisements.

The bill approved by the Legislature would clearly have exempted those ads from regulations, Miles said.

Without the bill, the Public Offices Commission will rely on previous court decisions to decide whether the ads should be regulated by Alaska's campaign laws, Miles said.

An Anchorage resident, John Alexander, has filed a complaint with APOC, arguing that ads are aimed at aiding Murkowski's campaign.

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