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Senator French, Representatives Gara and Kawasaki Introduce Bills to Limit Corporate Influence On Elections

(JUNEAU) - Senator Hollis French, D-Anchorage, along with Representative Les Gara, D-Anchorage, and Representative Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, today introduced legislation to protect Alaska's voters from unrestricted corporate influence on elections.

In a 5-4 decision announced on January 21st, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations have the same rights as "people" to "influence" elections.  That ruling reversed decades of settled Supreme Court precedent saying states could limit the election spending of corporations.

"The Supreme Court's ruling last month opened the floodgates for corporations to pour money into election campaigns," said Senator French.  "By passing these bills, we can ensure that the voters' voice will be heard, and that the integrity of our democracy is protected."

"Corporations should not be allowed to buy their favorite candidates into office," said Representative Gara.  "With oil companies seeking billions in tax giveaways, there's a danger they will use their money to attack candidates who stand up for the public's interests over corporate interests.   If that happens, it will cost Alaskans a fair share for our oil, and the revenue we need to build our savings, our schools, our economy and our future."

Senate Bill 284, sponsored by the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, and Rep. Kawasaki in the House (HB 358), would provide clear disclosure requirements for corporations participating in electioneering. Corporations would have to report how much money they spend on a given election to the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Advertisements for or against a candidate would also have to include a "paid for by" disclaimer.

"In effect, the Supreme Court's ruling, if left unchecked, lets corporations use as much money as they want to pay for negative campaigns, and to mislead Americans into voting for the candidates a corporation wants," said Representative Kawasaki.  "Our bill makes sure Alaskans know who is paying for ads and how much they're spending."

Senate Bill 285, which clarifies the description of corporations as "persons", is sponsored by Senator French. Representative Gara sponsored a companion bill in the House (HB 359). If passed, Alaska would join other states considering laws asserting that corporations are not "persons" for purposes of campaign contributions.  Passage of similar legislation by a majority of states could strengthen a future challenge to the Supreme Court's decision that corporations are "persons" under election financing laws.

"My colleagues and I fully support the first amendment rights of Alaskans to support the candidates of their choice in elections," said Senator French. "SB 285 leaves corporations with all other rights to conduct business in Alaska, and only states that corporations cannot be regarded by the courts as persons for purposes of campaign contributions." 

Both SB 284 and SB 285 have been referred to the State Affairs and Judiciary Committees.

For more information, contact Senator French or Kate Herring at 907-465-3892.



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