By: Eduardo Lopez
The issue of campaign contribution reform has always been a major topic in American politics, but especially in recent years, with the United States Supreme Court striking down limitations on federal campaign donations. Although the Supreme Court of the United States has made a final decision with regard to federal campaign donation limitations, states still possess the power to implement limitations on contributions on the state level.
The State of Alaska, in particular, has implemented very comprehensive campaign contribution regulations. For example, individual donations to candidates running for state offices are prohibited from exceeding $500. Additionally, Alaska limits the amount of donations candidates can receive throughout their campaign, depending on the position they are running for. Once candidates running for governor have received an aggregate $20,000 in donations from donors classified as individual non-residents, candidates are prohibited from accepting additional donations by individual non-residents. This first limitation is especially interesting considering the recent decision by the United States Supreme Court, which strikes down limitations on aggregate campaign contributions. However, state senate candidates are also limited to $5,000 in total donations from individuals, while house delegates are limited to a total of $3,000 in donations. Interestingly, Alaska prohibits contributions made by unions or corporations.
In addition to restrictions on contributions any given candidate can receive during their campaign run, Alaska also has strict guidelines with regard to how campaign contributions are to be reported to the Alaska Public Office Commission, which oversees all issues pertaining to campaign contributions. Generally, candidates are required to provide full reports of all contributions made to their respective campaigns. Essential elements to such reports — which are required by state statute — include the name; address; date; amount contributed by each contributor; the total amount of all contributions, including all funds contributed by the candidate; and the date and amount of all expenditures made by the candidate. All of these requirements are set forth in Sec. 15.13.030 and Sec. 15.13.040 of the Alaska state code. This section of the code also mandates that candidates be required to return any improper contributions to their campaigns back to the donor. One Alaska candidate running for the position of Mayor of North Slope Borough, Alaska, has found herself in the hot seat in recent weeks for failing to comply with a number of the aforementioned requirements.
Mayor Charlotte Brower of North Slope Borough, has been investigated by the Alaska Public Office Commission for a number of violations regarding campaign financing during her 2014 mayoral run. Mayor Brower is accused of failing to: report contributions and expenditures in a timely manner, accurately report contributions and expenditures, return prohibited contributions, register authorized makers of expenditures, and provide campaign records.
The issue arose in January of 2015, when the Alaska Public Office Commission requested a detailed report of Brower’s campaign finances, and the Brower campaign failed to comply. Fast forward nine months to September 16th, and the commission had yet to receive Brower’s filings. Brower’s husband, who serves as her campaign treasurer, attributed the failure to comply with the commission’s request to a personal lapse in judgement, taking full responsibility for the delay. However, the commission has officially fined Mayor Bower $34,000 for her failure to comply with the state’s requirements. Although $34,000 may seem like quite a bit of money, the commission has the power to fine Brower up to $172,300. The Brower administration has not disputed to fine.
This student contributor would like to commend the Alaska Public Office Commission for attempting to hold Mayor Brower accountable for her actions, or inaction rather. I think campaign contribution reform is a major issue in our country, and will continue to be so unless we hold our elected officials accountable. In fact, I think the commission should have come down a bit more heavily on the Mayor to ensure this type of behavior is not repeated.