THE ANCHORAGE DAILY PLANET
In an unsigned opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court has told the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its opinion upholding Alaska’s $500 limit on annual campaign contributions.
The high court vacated the 9th Circuit’s decision upholding the $500 limit, saying the appellate judges who rejected the lawsuit by three Alaskans failed to consider a 2006 ruling by the Supreme Court against low contribution limits on political campaigns in Vermont.
The court, which said in Citizens United v. FEC, that campaign expenditures by independent entities were constitutionally protected political speech, seemed unimpressed with Alaska’s campaign finance law. They are, the court said, squeezed by inflation and are more than 23 years old. Add to that: Alaska’s individual-to-candidate contribution limit is substantially lower than other states.
Oddly, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg went along with remanding the case to the 9th Circuit, she wrote a separate, disturbing opinion.
She noted Alaska’s reliance on resource development, specifically the oil industry, may make the state more prone to political corruption, and so that may justify the low limits.
She said, “Alaska has the second smallest legislature in the country and derives approximately 90 percent of its revenues from one economic sector—the oil and gas industry. As the District Court suggested, these characteristics make Alaska “highly, if not uniquely, vulnerable to corruption in politics and government.”
Because of that, Ginsberg said, Alaska is particularly vulnerable and the lower limit may be justified.
Incredible. We are left to wonder what she thinks about campaign limits in states such as Nevada, with its reliance on gambling, or Michigan, with its automotive industry, or Florida, with its income from the tourism industry. Alaska is far from “uniquely” vulnerable to corruption from business or industry.
It is disquieting, even insulting, for a Supreme Court justice to assume the oil and gas industry in Alaska is corrupt or endorses corruption and, because of that, making it harder for Alaskans to contribute to the candidates of their choice may be in order. That does not even make sense.
So much for the quaint notion of sensible laws applied equally.