Lawsuit challenges Alaska campaign disclosure rules

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Political donors have sued campaign finance rules implemented under the 2020 Voters Initiative, arguing that disclosure rules are cumbersome and serve their and their business interests in an environment of “cancelled culture.” can lead to retaliation against.

The disclosure rules were part of a ballot measure that changed Alaska’s election system and were passed by voters in 2020. The provisions of the measure calling for open primaries and rank-choice voting in general elections had previously been challenged in state courts and upheld.

At issue in the new lawsuit, which was filed in federal court on Thursday, are disclosure rules, including required disclaimers for ads and more than $2,000 given or received by third-party groups known as independent spending groups. Includes required reporting of contributions. The lawsuit alleges that these disclosure provisions are unconstitutional.

The attorneys involved in the case – Craig Richards, a former Alaska attorney general, and Daniel Suhr with the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center – filed briefs to a friend of the court in support of the challenges to the open primary system and when they were the Alaska Supreme. before the court. He did so on behalf of former Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell and former MP Dick Randolph.

Suhr said one reason they waited to file the federal lawsuit was that they wanted to see what the state Supreme Court would do, including whether it would shut down the entire initiative. The High Court issued a brief order in January upholding Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller’s decision to recognize the open primary and rank choice system as valid. A full opinion is pending from the Supreme Court of the state.

Miller noted in his decision that the plaintiffs in that case did not challenge the new law’s “efforts to curb black money”.

“When we started saying, OK, the next step is to focus on these campaign finance provisions that haven’t really been fully addressed yet,” Suhar said after the state Supreme Court action.

He said the measure is “the most aggressive law of its kind in the country” and raises First Amendment issues.

The plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit are Doug Smith of Anchorage, who was described by a spokesman for the Liberty Justice Center as an executive in the oil and energy industry; Robert Griffin of Anchorage; Alan Weezy of Fairbanks; Albert Haynes of Wasilla and Trevor Shaw of Ketchikan. The lawsuit describes each of them as sometimes donating more than $2,000 to independent spending organizations.

Also listed as plaintiffs are the Alaska Free Market Coalition and the Last Frontier Families, which are described as independent spending groups. A 2022 filing with the Alaska Public Office Commission features Shaw as president of the Alaska Free Market Coalition, which describes itself as promoting candidates who are “financially conservative, pro-business and Supporters of free market economic principles.”

The lawsuit names the defendants as members of the Alaska Public Office Commission, which oversees campaign finance regulations in the state.

Heather Hebden, the commission’s executive director, said commission staff had not commented on the lawsuit. Messages seeking comment were also sent to the state law department.

The group Alaska for Better Elections, which supported the initiative, said on its website that nothing in the initiative “violates the First Amendment or limits political speech or the right to freely associate with political parties. “

“The people of Alaska have a right to know who is spending their elections,” the group said on its site.

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