New APOC rule targets soft money

Posted: Friday, November 15, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Alaska Public Offices Commission has adopted a regulation requiring political parties to disclose where they got so-called soft money donations and how they spent them.

Thursday's decision comes after an election marked by the spending of millions of dollars in soft money by the state Democratic and Republican parties and by independent groups from within and outside Alaska. The commission's new regulation would not require the independent groups to report soft money givers and expenditures.

The regulation now goes up for legal review by state attorneys and to the lieutenant governor's office before becoming effective. It would not affect past soft money donations.

The Alaska Democratic Party supported the soft money regulation.

''The public deserves to know who is funding political activities in Alaska,'' party director Tammy Troyer said in a letter to the commission.

Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich was less enthusiastic.

''Well, since they clearly have no basis in law to do this, we will review their decision and then take future action,'' he said.

The vote was 4-1, with Larry Wood of Eagle River opposing.

''I really think this is an item the Legislature should deal with,'' said Wood, the commission's newest member. Wood, an attorney, said he also fears the new regulations might have constitutional or other legal flaws.

The commission's vice chairman, Mark Handley of Juneau, said the commission didn't have many options.

Federal court decisions in 2001 said the state can't restrict political spending that does not directly support or oppose candidates. The result was the months-long barrage of soft money campaign ads critical of the leading candidates for governor, Republican Frank Murkowski and Democrat Fran Ulmer.

Though the ads were critical of the candidates or their records, they apparently slipped through the soft money loophole because they didn't explicitly ask viewers to vote for or against anyone. Because the ads were financed with unregulated funds, voters could not tell who supplied the money or how much was spent.

Some of the soft money campaigns were orchestrated by groups, such as Virginia-based Americans for Job Security and the American Small Business Alliance, and Alaska-based Supporting Alaska Free Enterprise, which were not directly tied to a political party. Campaign spending by such groups would not be governed by the new APOC regulation.

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