Knowles vetoes campaign finance bills

Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles vetoed two campaign finance bills Wednesday. One would have allowed so-called ''soft money'' contributions to political parties, and another would have placed new spending limits on groups such as Alaska Conservation Voters.

Senate Bill 103 would have allowed individuals to make unlimited contributions to political parties as long as the contributions were earmarked for party expenses not tied to a specific candidate's campaign. Such contributions are commonly known as soft money. Contributions for use in a specific campaign are limited to $5,000.

The bill would have allowed professionals, such as lawyers and media consultants, to contribute unlimited services to campaigns without reporting the value of those contributions.

''By allowing soft money and unlimited donations of professional services, the Legislature has turned its back on campaign finance reform,'' Knowles wrote in his veto letter.

The provisions that drew Knowles' objections were added to the bill late in the legislative session in response to a ruling by U.S. District Judge James Singleton. Singleton ruled that individuals and corporations can give as much time and money as they like to political parties or groups, as long as no more than $5,000 of the contribution is earmarked to help get candidates elected.

Alaska Public Offices Commission Director Brooke Miles said immediate legislative response to the ruling was not necessary because the judge was already requiring the commission to comply with the decision.

The state has appealed Singleton's ruling. Knowles said the bill would have locked in the change even if Singleton's decision was reversed on appeal.

The bill was sponsored by the Senate State Affairs Committee. The committee's chairman, Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, did not return a message left on an answering machine in his office Wednesday afternoon.

An aide said House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, was out of town on business. Kott's committee helped write the last-minute changes to SB 103 and also sponsored House Bill 177, the other bill Knowles vetoed.

House Bill 177 was intended to rein in campaign spending by Alaska Conservation Voters, a group that had been allowed to operate under different rules from political action committees because of a 1999 Alaska Supreme Court ruling.

The court determined groups that meet several criteria, including being independent from the influence of corporations, have a unique status and should be treated differently than those with business interests. Only one group, Alaska Conservation Voters, has taken advantage of that ruling.

During the November 2000 general election campaign, Alaska Conservation Voters was able to transfer money from its general account to campaign accounts without disclosing who its general account contributors were.

House Bill 177 was intended to close that loophole, Kott has said.

Miles of APOC said the bill went beyond limits placed on most political action committees, which can contribute up to $1,000 to campaigns. House Bill 177 would have limited groups like the conservation voters to $500 contributions, the same limit placed on individual contributors.

''This bill takes an unwise approach to our campaign finance laws, targeting and treating differently one entity that is clearly permitted by the law and courts to participate in elections,'' Knowles said in his veto letter.

Knowles also signed two bills into law Wednesday:

-- Senate Bill 156 makes clear that the state has to issue only a single written finding that a project is in the best interest of the state before selling or leasing state land or resources.

-- House Bill 185 allows the state to grant temporary water use permits without providing public notice, and it restructures the state system for processing water use permit applications.

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