Decision lifts certain contribution limits in Alaska

March 5, 2022 GMT

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Individuals will be allowed to make unlimited contributions to candidates following a decision by the commission that oversees Alaska campaign finance rules, officials said.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission on Thursday did not approve a staff proposal to set revised limits in place of caps that were struck down by an appeals court panel last year. A draft opinion, issued in November, suggested that the limits in place before those that were struck down “apply as adjusted for inflation,” which included proposed limits of $1,500 per calendar year for individuals to candidates. Campaigns were to adhere to the draft opinion until the commission weighed in.

The commission, in its decision, said it declined the revive the old contribution limits and also declined to index those for inflation. There were legal questions about whether it had the power to do those things.


Heather Hebdon, the commission’s executive director, on Friday said given the court ruling and commission decision, individuals may contribute unlimited amounts to candidates and to non-party groups. She also had said non-party groups can contribute unlimited amounts to candidates and other non-party groups. The commission office had released a similar statement Thursday.

But Hebdon later Friday said existing limits of $1,000 a year remain in place for non-party group contributions to candidates or to other non-party groups. That’s because the court case did not strike down those limits, the commission office said in a statement.

The commission, in its decision Thursday, said it “implores” lawmakers to revisit contribution limits to balance the appeals court panel ruling “with the desire of Alaska voters.”

A divided federal appeals court panel last year struck down a $500-a-year limit on what an individual can give a candidate. It also struck down a $500-a-year limit on individual contributions to non-party groups and a cap on total nonresident donations a candidate can raise.

The state Department of Law decided not to seek further review of the panel’s decision. A spokesperson for the department at the time said the ruling indicated Alaska’s $500 campaign contribution limit “would not be upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court for multiple reasons, including reasons beyond dispute, such as the lack of an inflation adjustment” in state law.

The department’s decision was criticized by Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, who had called the dissent in the case strong.

“We need some limits,” he said earlier this week, adding later, “Hopefully we can get to a point where we can all agree on some kind of compromise on what they should be.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy believes setting a new limit on contributions should be a priority in the current legislative session, Dunleavy spokesperson Jeff Turner said Friday.


Several bills on the issue have been introduced by lawmakers. He said the administration is “ready to work with the Legislature on passing legislation this session.”

Regular sessions can run up to 121 days, a period that extends into May.

A number of states allow for unlimited individual contributions to candidates, including Oregon, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Alaska Public Interest Research Group, which criticized the commission decision, said it was “considering possible avenues of action.”

The commission “has created unnecessary chaos while punting any responsibility to the Alaska State Legislature,” the group’s executive director, Veri di Suvero, said in a statement.


The story has been corrected to reflect information from the commission executive director that caps remain for contributions from non-party groups.