Knowles' campaign funding bill vetoed

Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2002

JUNEAU -- Lawmakers voted 41-16 Tuesday to override Gov. Tony Knowles' veto of a campaign funding bill.

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

Knowles has said he vetoed Senate Bill 363 because it was worse than no bill.

Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, who pushed the bill in the Senate, disagreed. Therriault said while the bill did not go as far as some wanted, it would have regulated some issue ads that run just before an election.

Therriault said if the Legislature went too far in restricting political issue ads, the courts would overturn the law on constitutional grounds.

''We're talking about freedom of speech here, and not just basic freedom of speech,'' Therriault said, noting the courts have granted a heightened protection to political speech.

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

An early version of 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.

The final version of the bill generally regulates those advertisements only if they explicitly advocate election or defeat of a particular candidate, using words such as ''vote for'' or ''vote against'' the candidate.

''That's a loophole you could pilot a supertanker full of anonymous Outside donations through,'' said Anchorage Democrat Sen. Johnny Ellis, arguing Knowles was right to veto the bill.

Brooke Miles, director of the Alaska Public Offices Commis-sion, 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.

Therriault said that's not so. He said the bill also regulates ads that attribute a position on a political issue to a candidate if the ads run within 30 days of a general or municipal election.

That element of the bill would have been lost if Knowles' veto were allowed to stand, Therriault said.

Therriault questioned whether Knowles vetoed the bill to help an environmental group, Alaska Conservation Voters, spend money influencing campaigns without being regulated.

Knowles' office denied that. Sue Schrader, a lobbyist for Alaska Conservation Voters, said the group did not oppose the bill and was surprised with the governor's veto.

For his part, Knowles has speculated that lawmakers weakened the bill in the waning days of the session to allow a Virginia group, Americans for Job Security, to run advertisements critical of the Knowles-Ulmer administration.

Rep. Pete Kott, who heads the House Rules Committee which made the changes Knowles disliked, said that was not the case.

Therriault said the changes were made at his suggestion because of his staff's research on court rulings.

All members of the Republican majority voted to override the veto, while all minority Democrats voted to uphold the governor's action.

Democrats voted with the governor despite the fact most had earlier voted for the bill. Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, was absent Tuesday.

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