Court rules against cap on out-of-state campaign donations

Ninth Circuit Court upholds three Alaska laws limiting contributions to candidates

Federal appeals court judges have upheld three Alaska campaign finance laws limiting political contributions challenged in a 2015 lawsuit, while striking down a fourth limit on total contributions to a candidate from donors living outside of Alaska.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was not persuaded that the state’s interest in preventing corruption justified its annual aggregate limit on total out-of-state contributions and struck down that limit as unconstitutional, relying on the U.S. Supreme Court case of McCutcheon vs. the Federal Elections Commission. In that 2014 case the Supreme Court held that such limits violate the First Amendment.

Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said in a statement issued on Nov. 27 that the state is disappointed that the court struck down Alaska’s limit on non-resident contributions, while “pleased that the court recognized the importance of the majority of our contribution limits.”

The Ninth Circuit did uphold three contribution limits set by Alaska law – the $500 annual limit on individual contributions to political candidates, the $500 limit on individual contributions to non-party political groups that contribute to candidates, and the annual limits on contributions to candidates by political parties and their subdivisions.

That decision “shows that the voters got it right in setting reasonable limits that the state can continue to enforce,” Lindemuth said.

The state’s current Department of Law is still reviewing the court’s seasoning in that decision and evaluating next steps, but with the new Dunleavy administration coming into office in early December, it is uncertain what action, if any, the state may decide on.

Heather Hebdon, executive director of the Alaska Public Offices Commission, the defendant in the case brought by the Alaska Republican Party, said she had not yet consulted with her board on further steps the APOC might take.

The overall matter stems from the 2010 Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission case in which then U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy issued an opinion that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment and that the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections.

The Kennedy opinion held that while corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads, especially where these ads were not broadcast.