Judge says Alaska should crack down on unlimited contributions in state elections

The Nesbett Courthouse in downtown Anchorage.

A Superior Court judge in Anchorage has issued a ruling that may hobble the big-money independent expenditure groups that have come to dominate Alaska elections.

Jason Harrow, of the group Equal Citizens, is one of the attorneys who brought the case on behalf of three Alaska voters.

“I think many Alaskans saw in the last election cycle, with respect to groups that were supporting Gov. Dunleavy from out of state and things like that, that these independent groups can be very similar and very closely aligned with the campaigns … and because they’re technically independent, there’s no limits that apply,” Harrow said. “And that’s what we were targeting.”

Judge William Morse says the Alaska Public Offices Commission should reinstate the $500 annual per-person contribution limit to independent groups, or Political Action Committees, that’s in state law. APOC stopped enforcing it following a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Harrow says APOC went too far in its interpretation.

“Well, the key point is that it wasn’t quite Citizens United that led to the opening of the floodgates,” Harrow said.

Harrow expects the case will be reviewed by the state Supreme Court, and then he hopes to bring it to the U.S. Supreme Court, to curb unlimited money in politics. 

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Law says the department believes the court’s order is mistaken. The department has filed a petition for rehearing.