ANCHORAGE JUDGE EXPANDED $500 CONTRIBUTION LIMITS TO PACS
A little-known liberal advocacy group in Washington, D.C. has won an important ruling from an Anchorage judge to limit future contributions to Alaska super PACs and independent expenditure groups.
The limit would be $500 per person, the same limit that state law applies to candidates’ campaigns.
Now, the State of Alaska has challenged the October ruling, asking for a rehearing because some important elements were left out of the case.
Anchorage Superior Court Judge William Morse ruled in favor of “Equal Citizens,” which brought the lawsuit on behalf of three Alaska Democrats against “Interior Voters for John Coghill,” “Working Families of Alaska,” as well as the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
The case stems back to the 2010 “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision, which said that political action groups may accept donations and influence elections through independent groups that do not coordinate with candidates’ campaigns. That ruling held that the free speech clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent money spent for political communications by corporations, nonprofit corporations, labor unions, and other private associations.
Such was the case with Interior Voters. It was a group formed by the late Scott Hawkins, founder of the now-disbanded Accountability Project, which Hawkins set up as a pro-economy grassroots activist group after the 2010 Citizens United Ruling.
Interior Voters was registered with the Federal Elections Commission for campaign work for less than a month’s worth of effort leading up to the November, 2016 election; the effort included printed postcards, online digital media, radio and cable television ads, and door-to-door, get-out-the-vote work.
Hawkins died in August of 2019. The chair of the Interior Voters for John Coghill, Kathleen “Mike” Dalton of Fairbanks, died in February. Because both were in failing health in the last year of their lives, no legal defense was mounted on behalf of Interior Voters.
But back in 2016, Hawkins and Dalton had raised funds and sent mailers out in support of their favorite candidate, Republican Sen. John Coghill, and they opposed Democrat Luke Hopkins, the former mayor of Fairbanks. Coghill ended up winning that race.
With The Accountability Project on the rise in Alaska, backing and winning races, the Equal Citizens group took note, and filed a lawsuit.
The other group named in the lawsuit, Working Families of Alaska, was formed in 2011 by Local 341 of the Labor Union. It had worked on behalf of Democrats for many years, having been formed right after the Citizens United ruling came down from the U.S. Supreme Court.
It wasn’t until conservatives in Alaska started making strides with these independent expenditures that it became a problem for the liberal Equal Citizens group, which had ignored the union expenditures for years.
Equal Citizens with its strong Democrat Party and Washington D.C. connections filed on behalf of three Democrats. The litigants hope to take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to begin to erode some of the provisions of Citizens United. The Accountability Project made an easy target in a cheap state in which to litigate.
The judge’s ruling orders the Alaska Public Offices Commission to institute a $500 limit per person to a political action committee or independent expenditure group, to align with Alaska’s extremely limiting campaign laws that allow no more than $500 per person given to a candidate during a calendar year. In 2006, voters supported the measure with 73 percent of the vote.
That 2006 law against larger campaign contributions has not been applied to the independent groups — until this judge’s order.
Because the Alaska Public Offices Commission is named as a defendant, the State Department of Law asked for a rehearing of the matter on Monday.
The case has the likelihood to go back to the U.S. Supreme Court, which had already ruled that free speech rights extend to these independent groups. But Equal Citizens is looking for another bite of the apple, through the liberal and cheap-to-litigate Alaska Court System.