Alaskans will see a new element in state politics this year – an unlimited amount of money. The money will come from Independent Expenditure Groups or IEGs. Those IEGs are organizations that work outside a candidate’s regulated campaign – and, because of a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, work outside of the legal limits and restrictions the state had imposed on donors and campaigns in previous elections.
The Alaska Public Offices Commission – APOC – this week approved a staff report shaping how the state will work with the Independent Groups. The report reflects the Citizens’ United versus the Federal Elections Commission case that allowed corporations, labor unions and Political Action groups to directly participate in campaigns with no federal oversight.
Paul Dauphanais, APOC’s executive director says the state report finds Alaska’s current campaign contribution rules may be out of compliance, saying the Supreme Court has, “Potentially rendered those restrictions unconstitutional as applied to groups that make only independent contributions.”
“That’s a fair characterization of what Citizens’ United has done potentially to Alaska Campaign Finance Law. And I say potentially, obviously, this needs to be decided by the courts,” Dauphanais said.
Following the Supreme Court decision, the legislature added requirements to state law designed to protect voters while remaining in line with the federal courts. The state focused on the public being made aware of the donors behind the independent groups. They now must be identified by name in political advertising and promotion. However, Dauphanais says true identification begins earlier than an ad campaign.
“We will know when they register with APOC., before they do any fundraising or expenditure. Before they do any activity, they have to register with us,” he said.
Currently, there are only four independent groups registered in the state – one of them is the bi-partisan, thousand- ember strong Alaska Conservation Voters. Jane Angvik is on the Board of Directors. She says the major adaptation to accommodate the independent status is in avoiding coordination of any of the group’s activities with the political campaigns it supports.
“We have the opportunity to both contribute directly to the campaign and also to be able to create materials that might influence voters. But we are not able to coordinate our activities with the campaign. We have to be independent of the campaign itself,” Angvik said.
The APOC decision was in reply to questions by an independent group organizing as “Alaskans Deserve Better” – with the intention of promoting, “responsible, ethical and transparent government.” Angvik sees the advantages of having the independent status.
“We are neither a tool of a campaign nor are we in conflict potentially with how they are managing their campaign because what we’re really doing is we’re trying to broaden and educate voters about the public policy issues we’re concerned about,” Angvik said.
She says after elections, the independent groups can work freely with whoever is elected.