Citizens United and APOC: Alaska Deserves Better

There are three ways Alaska regulates the influence of campaign donations under its current system:

  • by limiting how much any donor may give,
  • by limiting the uses to which the monies can be put, and
  • by requiring accurate reporting as to both where the dough came from and where it was spent.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission gutted the first of those three kinds of regulation last week: following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, there are no longer any limits on how much money any one person can give to an Independent Expenditure Group.

Appropriately enough, the request to remove the contribution limits came from Alaska’s richest man, Robert “Bob” Gillam, whose latest innocent-sounding astroturf organization is called Alaska Deserves Better. Apparently, Mr. Gillam lacks any sense of irony. In addition to his demonstrated scofflaw tendencies.  No surprise there.

Here’s how it came down. Gillam, through attorney Tim McKeever, asked the APOC staff for an advisory ruling through a series of questions, framed as hypotheticals. In answer to the question whether Gillam’s puppet could make unlimited contributions, APOC staff opined that Alaska’s statutory limits were unconstitutional under Citizens United. The APOC staff recommendation was approved by the APOC on a 4-0 vote. And just that simply and quickly, contribution limits were a thing of the past.

Some glosses to the opinion. It applies only to what Alaska law calls “independent expenditures,” which are expenditures not directly coordinated with a candidate. Don’t misunderstand: an independent expenditure group can do exactly what a candidate wants; it just can’t be coordinated with the candidate. And not more than one third of an independent expenditure group’s expenses can be spent for or against one specific candidate, unless it incorporates the name of the candidate in its name.

Now Mr. McKeever lied to APOC is at least one detail: as of  June 14, 2012, there is no nonprofit corporation organized or registered in Alaska called “Alaska Deserves Better.” WC has no doubt that Mr. Gillam and his lawyers will redress that error soon. Or perhaps not. Mr. Gillam doesn’t care very much about campaign finance laws.WC suspects APOC staff will be watching Mr. Gillam carefully. WC also suspects Mr. Gillam really doesn’t care.

But WC can offer a useful guide to dealing with the risk of huge expenditures in Alaska’s elections. Track down who it is making those expenditures. If it come from Gillam or Alaska Deserves Better or any of the rest of his other astroturf entities, remember that Alaska really does deserve better, and do just the opposite of what Mr. Gillam’s and his megabucks want.