When the Alaska Public Office Commission announced last week that it was removing limits on nearly all forms of political contributions, it did so while calling on the Alaska Legislature to reinstate limits. that would satisfy the issues raised in the court decision that struck down the state. previous limits.
That’s already a big question considering this is the Alaskan legislature, but reinstating campaign finance limits ahead of this year’s election became nearly impossible on Friday when Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who refused to appeal the court’s decision, omitted the contribution limits of his “electoral reform”. bill and benefited greatly from large unlimited contributions to an independent spending group supporting his election in 2018 – indicated that he was, in fact, fine with unlimited campaign contributions.
“You know me: I’m the guy who wants people to be able to drive four wheels on the road. I’m a freedom guy,” he told the Anchorage Daily News. “My tendency is to let people do whatever they want in campaign finance law, as long as it’s disclosed and it’s accurate.”
The story stops short of indicating whether Dunleavy promised a veto to the measure, but it certainly injects the threat of a veto at any new limit. It effectively raises the bar for such legislation from a majority of the House and Senate to a combined total of 40 votes needed to gain legislative override. On that front, it’s important to point out that of the many legislative proposals to reinstate campaign contribution caps, none have Republican support. Conversely, none of the Republican-backed election bills, including those proposed by Dunleavy, touch campaign contribution limits. Sen. Mike Shower, chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, where two boundary bills have languished, said he has other priorities.
At this point, such legislation is unlikely to even reach his desk.
That doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road for campaign contribution limits in Alaska (and certainly doesn’t mean that lawmakers supporting these measures should abandon them), but it likely does mean it’ll be a long way to go. restore boundaries. The more surefire vehicle would be an election initiative — which, at this point, wouldn’t appear on the ballot until 2024, meaning two statewide election cycles would be held without limits — or by a change in the governor’s office.
The gubernatorial candidates, former Governor Bill Walker, an Independent, and former Anchorage Rep. Les Gara, a Democrat, both signaled support for campaign contribution limits.
“I can tell you exactly how many times I’ve had an Alaskan come and tell me we need more money in politics: never,” Walker said in a prepared statement provided to the Midnight Sun. “Alaska’s old system wasn’t perfect, but what it did well was a framework that encouraged applicants to work hard and get financial support from people who live here and believe in a candidate’s vision for our state. What we are likely to see now, following APOC’s series of odd votes, is a scenario where an outside interest group or a candidate’s wealthy brother can massively influence our political process. The legislature must correct this problem before the end of this year’s session.
Gara issued a lengthy press release outlining all of Dunleavy’s actions leading up to this point.
“The governor has done everything he can to drown out the voices of ordinary Alaskans from the political process. Campaigns will now be a battle between those who donate for good politics and those who donate to undermine the public interest for personal and corporate gain. I worry that good Alaskans who donate for reasons unrelated to personal benefit will be heavily spent by those seeking profit for themselves and their businesses,” Gara said. “It is a sad day when you must ask Alaskans who care about the state to give as much as they can, to prevent the buying of our elections by those who give millions out of self-interest. be avoided.”
So what does this all mean?
The impact on Alaska’s political landscape, like all the other significant changes we see in the electoral system this year, remains to be seen. I spoke with a few people involved in the campaign, here are some quick observations:
- Large and unlimited campaign contributions could constitute a political liability for the candidate, which means that independent spending groups and PACs – which operate at a distance from the candidate with a wink and a nod – will always have a place in the world of the campaign. That said, routing money through a candidate’s campaign has the advantage that that money takes advantage of candidate-specific advertising rates, thereby maximizing money.
- While it may be attractive as a candidate to pledge not to accept contributions over a certain amount, it would be a strategically poor move. Unlimited contributions are the new rules of the game, one person explained.
- Money in politics has its limits. As we have seen many in recent history, whoever has the most money is not automatically the winner. Winning requires a good enough candidate, a good enough campaign and money.
- Money in politics has diminishing returns at some point, especially at the legislative level where local media buys don’t reach the right audience.
- That said, it’s also entirely possible that candidates accepting large contributions won’t be the political liability that many are hoping for. After all, when was the last time a contribution became a major political flashpoint, let alone impacted the outcome?
- To some extent, this undermines the political leverage that unions, which are limited by how much they can raise through payroll deductions, can have in elections… which is probably part of the idea of open the doors wide.
Personally, I’m very interested in the impact of this on state campaign regulators, who are expected to see their budgets shrink this year. Even at the best of times, Alaska’s campaign finance data system is a mess. There are plenty of fairly innocent mistakes: typos in addresses (Anchorage, for example, has 18 different spellings in this year’s contributions alone), typos in names, inconsistent labeling, and a general inability to keep up with instructions.
There are also many shortcomings in the way the agency’s mission of transparency is undermined by groups that increasingly view agency fines as a cost of doing business. Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson kept much of his campaign activities secret from the public until well after he was already in the mayor’s office, paying a $38,500 fine to have him made. In a growing pool of money, these fines will represent a smaller and smaller drop.