Campaign finance reform initiative will go to voters

Posted: Thursday, December 02, 2004

A campaign finance reform citizen initiative is headed to voters in 2006.

Lt. Gov. Loren Leman certified this month that the campaign finance proposition received the requisite 23,286 signatures to put it on the August 2006 primary ballot. The proposed initiative would reverse campaign finance laws passed by the Alaska Legislature in 2003. These laws loosened the limits on contributions to politicians.

The ballot proposition would reduce the amount individuals can give to candidates from $1,000 to $500, the amount they can donate to political parties from $10,000 to $5,000 and the amount political action committees can donate from $2,000 to $1,000. Political parties would be able to donate only $1,000 to candidates, compared to the $4,000 now allowed.

Also, lobbyists would have to register with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, the state's campaign finance watchdog, after spending more than 10 hours a month directly influencing lawmakers. They now must register after having spent 40 hours in a 30-day period.

"We believe it's important because it's a way to get the influence of big money out of Alaska politics," said Steve Cleary, executive director of the Anchorage-based Alaska Public Interest Research Group, who helped organize the signature-gathering effort.

House Speaker-elect John Harris, R-Valdez, voted in favor of the 2003 campaign finance laws upping contribution limits.

"The easier it is to raise the money, the better," Harris said. "One of the things I hate most about being in politics is asking people for money."

Cleary said high contribution limits give incumbents the advantage in elections. He noted that no incumbent lawmaker was removed from power by a challenger in the recent election.

"I think there's probably a lot of truth in that," Harris said. "If you're running against an incumbent, it's difficult."

Lawmakers could keep the measure off the ballot by passing a substantially similar bill in the Legislature next year. Legislators used this technique in 1996, when another campaign finance reform initiative was on its way to the ballot. Harris said he has not heard of any plans by Republican House members to introduce such a bill.

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