March 5

By Tim Rockey and Sean Maguire

Alaska is poised to have unlimited campaign contributions in most instances after a state regulator declined to impose new caps, after old limits were struck down as unconstitutional.

In a 3-2 vote, the Alaska Public Offices Commission declined to adopt a staff recommendation to set new campaign contribution limits for the state, according to a decision published Thursday. There will still be limits on the amount that political parties can donate to candidates.

After a federal appeals court struck down Alaska’s campaign contribution limits in a decision last year, commission staff issued a contentious advisory opinion reviving an older annual limit of $1,500 from individuals to candidates with an adjustment for inflation.

According to Thursday’s decision, commission members Suzanne Hancock, Van Lawrence and Dan LaSota voted in favor of adopting a modified version of a recommended decision by commission staff, but Richard Stillie and Chair Anne Helzer did not vote for the recommended decision. Advisory opinions can only be approved if four members of the commission vote for them, meaning the vote failed.

The recommendation would have revived prior-enacted contribution limits from 2003, which also set the annual limit of $1,500 for individuals contributing to a group, and a limit of $3,000 for groups making contributions to candidates.

By declining to revive the 2003 limits adjusted for inflation, the commission leaves virtually no campaign contribution limits in place in Alaska. The commission confirmed this in an email to candidates on Thursday.

In the decision, the commission urged the Alaska Legislature “to revisit these campaign finance contribution limits to balance the Federal ruling in Thompson v Hebdon with the desire of Alaska voters.” There have long been concerns that Alaska is susceptible to political corruption due its reliance on oil for state revenue.

Alaska’s previous limits were $500 per year from individuals to candidates or groups, and $1,000 annually from groups to a candidate. In July 2021, the federal appeals court found the state did did not meet the burden of showing that the limits were “closely drawn to meet objectives,” according to Thursday’s decision.

Several legislators have bills to impose new campaign contribution caps. Anchorage Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson’s bill has advanced the furthest, and could soon be on the House floor. It would need to pass through the House and Senate and be signed by the governor to come into effect.

The commission also published an update on Friday, clarifying that the $1,000 limits for non-political party groups contributing to a candidate, or to other non-political party groups, are still in effect in Alaska, because those were not struck down by the court as unconstitutional. Because the commission did not vote to adopt the new limits suggested in the advisory order, the original limits of $1,000 remain in effect for those types of contributions.

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