Breaking news: Alaska’s $500 limit on campaign contributions struck by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals


“It’s a total win,” said Jim Crawford, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit Thompson vs. Hebdon.

The $500 contribution limit to candidates in Alaska has been struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, after having been partially remanded back to that court by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We have been at this thing for seven years, and one of the plaintiffs, Aaron Downing, died during that time, and District 18 Republicans withdrew as a plaintiff,” Crawford said. He began the lawsuit when he was chairman of District 18 Republicans.

All that is left to enjoy the victory for free speech is Crawford, who is former chair of the Republican Party and Dave Thompson.

“This evens up the game and that’s why we did it, to even up the game. You’ve got all sorts of liberal groups pumping money into the Democratic Party and their groups, and they limit conservatives to $500 per candidate,” Crawford said.

The men had challenged the State of Alaska’s statute that puts a $500 annual limit on an individual contribution to a political candidate, (2) the $500 limit on an individual contribution to a non- political party group, (3) annual limits on what a political party—including its subdivisions—may contribute to a candidate, and (4) the annual aggregate limit on contributions a candidate may accept from nonresidents of Alaska.

“I have run a lot of campaigns in Alaska. The labor community could always contribute $2,500 to a campaign and do that 87 times, and conservative candidates were limited to 500 bucks from conservative people. We took it all way to the Supreme Court, and they remanded it back to the Ninth and we just won,” he said.

“Plaudits to Robin Brena, a great attorney,” Crawford added. “It’s been seven years we have been on this trail. Based on today’s decision there is no limit to what a donor can contribute to a candidate in Alaska.

The lawsuit started seven years ago with three Republicans — Aaron Downing, now deceased, Jim Crawford, and David Thompson.

“We constantly pushed this thing because it is the right thing to do. Even up the money. then you take politics back to conceptualize and accomplish a program. Let them advertise what they believe. let conservatives advertise. We win almost every time.

They challenged the $500 annual limit on an individual contribution to a political candidate, (2) the $500 limit on an an individual contribution to a non- political party group, (3) annual limits on what a political party—including its subdivisions—may contribute to a candidate, and (4) the annual aggregate limit on contributions a candidate may accept from nonresidents of Alaska.

According to Brena, “the Ninth Circuit panel affirmed its earlier decision with regard to those matters not appealed to the Supreme Court.  The Ninth Circuit panel affirmed its earlier decision, in the State of Alaska’s favor, upholding the Alaska $5,000 contribution limit for a political party to a candidate and it also affirmed its earlier decision, in Plaintiffs’ favor, striking down as unconstitutional the Alaska $3,000 contribution limit for total out‑of‑state contributions.”

Issues Reversed: In Plaintiffs’ favor, the Ninth Circuit panel reversed its earlier decision on both issues Plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court.  The majority panel held that “[w]hen the government restricts speech, it bears the burden of proving the constitutionality of its actions.” It must do so by furthering a “sufficiently important state interest” to avoid “actual quid pro quo corruption or its appearance” and the restriction much be “closely drawn” to that state interest.  The majority panel did a detailed application of the five Randall factors, designed to determine the constitutionality of restrictions on free speech imposed by campaign contribution limits, to the facts in Alaska.  The majority held Alaska had failed to meet its burden of showing that the $500 individual‑to‑candidate contribution limit and that the $500 individual‑to‑political group contribution limit were not “closely drawn” to meet the state’s interest.  In particular, the majority seemed concerned that (1) such restrictive campaign contribution limits would make it too difficult for challengers to raise sufficient funds and run competitive campaigns against incumbents, (2) the annual limits favored incumbents because challengers do not fund raise in off-election years while incumbents do fund raise in off‑election years, (3) there was no inflation adjustment on the campaign contribution limit making it more restrictive over time, and (4) there was no special justification for such restrictive campaign contribution limits.  The minority judge on the panel dissented from the majority opinion. 

Robin O. Brena and Laura S. Gould with Brena, Bell & Walker, P.C. and Erin Murphy and Paul D. Clement with Kirkland & Ellis LLP represented the Plaintiffs.  

Brena said, “It is good day for free speech in Alaska.  Alaska’s restrictive campaign contribution limits broadly restricted free speech without serving a legitimate state interest or being narrowly drawn to avoid imposing an unnecessary burden on Alaskan’s rights to free speech.  In this age of Citizens United, when large donors may contribute unlimited funds to independent expenditure groups to influence an election, the restrictive campaign contribution limits in Alaska just mean the candidates have a harder time being heard while large, private independent expenditure groups dominate the discussion.  We need to protect our rights to free speech and protect our election process for the candidates that are responsible to the voters.  The majority on the Ninth Circuit panel provided an excellent constitutional analysis and protected Alaskan’s free speech rights.” 

The decision:


  1. I remember when Alaska had that 500 contribution on the ballot. They, the Democrats, sold it to Alaskans the same way they sold the rank choice voting thingy last year.( I remembered cause I had voted for it on my youth years, ignorantly thinking the 500 dollar contribution will level the playing field. Hahahaha)

    Alaskans haven’t learned.

  2. Yay, more competition in politics!! Now the public sector labor unions won’t have a monopoly.

    With social media, ADN, and KTUU acting as in kind contributors to liberal candidates, conservatives will now be able to raise enough money to compete.

    Getting your message out requires advertising. It requires money to buy advertising. Money = speech.

  3. Oh goodie! Now Brena can throw his firm’s money at the corrupt and disgraced former Gov. Bill Walker’s next campaign.

  4. As always, MRAK was out in front of all other Alaska media with this news. This ruling and the ranked choice voting make for an incredible election year in 2022. The ruling has lots of implications but one of them is pushback against the leftward spinning media like the Daily News and the governmentally funded Public Media and Public Broadcasting. At the same time it’s a financial windfall for Alaska media and I expect prices to be bid up even higher than in 2020. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn of Alaska radio and television stations secretly initiating an oil tax ballot measure, and possibly another anti-mining ballot measure, in order to raise their revenues even higher. As the Alaska industry base continues to narrow and government increases its power to fill the void we see the elections business grow larger and larger. Interesting. Maybe China will throw another epidemic at us and make 2022 even more interesting!

  5. $500 was laughable and what this did was disenfranchise average citizens in Alaska from having a voice and that’s why labor and the left, and really a lot of the establishment GOP fought this. Now they’ll benefit to some degree, but it will be more even. Before left wing and establishment groups had the advantage and the average citizen knew how little their voice mattered and so just stayed out of it. This will hopefully change that.

  6. The willingness to block, break or restrain free speech for conservatives, who mostly mind their own business , is nothing new. The willingness of Mr. Crawford to push this against the odds of our liberal state courts is courageous. We must fight jungle primary elections and casino voting with the same courage.

  7. Wow, so the 9th Circus can actually get something right. This issue has been ruled upon by SCOTUS more than a decade ago.

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