Campaign contribution limits pass House, but GOP opposition likely dooms them for 2022

Rep. Calvin Schrage makes the final closing case for restoring campaign contribution limits during the floor debate on House Bill 234 on Wednesday, March 17, 2022.

In a late-night vote on Wednesday, the Alaska House narrowly voted to approve legislation reinstating limits on campaign contributions. The measure comes after voter-approved limits, which had passed by a huge margin in the early 2000s, were narrowly struck down by the courts last year and campaign regulators narrowly refused to enact on their own.

The vote was 21-18 with every single non-majority Republican voting no. Their opposition, combined with reluctance in the Senate, means it’ll be a tough path to enacting campaign contribution limits in time for the 2022 elections. That’s good news for Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who has already voiced support for limitless contributions and has reportedly been soliciting large contributions.

Republican opposition would make overriding a potential veto near-impossible. Veto overrides require 40 votes from the entire Legislature, meaning the measure would need to pass with the support of all but one Senator to have the votes needed for an override. Dunleavy and allies are likely hoping that the measure will never reach the governor’s desk, sparing him from having to take such an action.

Much of that was clear going into Wednesday night, but members of the majority House Coalition argued it’s important to put the issue on the record. They noted that 73% of Alaskans voted in favor of the ballot initiative that limited political contributions to candidates to $500 per year and said the legislation reflects the voters’ desire to keep a tight limit on money while respecting the ruling of the court. They also argued that campaign contribution limits can help limit the influence of money and corruption in Alaska.

House Bill 234 by Rep. Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage, would put a $2,000 limit on how much individuals can contribute to candidates during the election cycle, a shifting from the per-year limit. It would also limit fundraising from non-Alaskans to 25% of a campaign’s total fundraising.

“We should be able to run even more effective campaigns and still limit the toxic, corrosive element that’s corruption,” Schrage said in closing about the bill. “This bill might not be perfect and there might be legitimate concerns out there and we might be able to go further with this bill but let’s not stop it here tonight. Let’s keep it going, let’s work with our senators to make this bill better. Let’s all go back to our districts and say we made an effort to limit that out-of-state money and stand up for our state.”

The legislation would set the following limits, moving from a per-year limit to a per-election cycle:

  • $2,000 limit on contributions from individuals to single candidates
  • $4,000 limit on contributions from individuals to joint gubernatorial campaigns
  • $5,000 limit on contributions from individuals to political parties or other election groups
  • $4,000 limit on contributions from non-political party groups to individuals
  • $8,000 limit on contributions from groups joint gubernatorial campaigns

Republicans found a litany of reasons to oppose the legislation. They argued it was an infringement on their Free Speech, argued that the limits would somehow encourage corruption, said unlimited money was needed because social media companies were censoring them, complained about union participation in elections, harped on the ranked-choice voting system approved by voters, dismissed the possibility that corruption is an issue (needing to be remined about the whole VECO scandal) and whined that the limits were too low after not offering any amendments to raise them.

The legislation now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Without a clear path through the Legislature and governor, the only sure-fire way to reinstate campaign contribution limits would be through a voter initiative.

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