ANCHORAGE – Last Friday, a panel of three judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Thompson v. Hebdon that Alaska’s campaign contribution limits violated the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Today, the Alaska Senate Democrats sent a letter to Governor Mike Dunleavy urging him to direct the state attorney general to seek rehearing en banc as soon as possible. If granted, the Thompson decision will be reviewed by eleven members of the court, including the Chief Judge who dissented in last week’s ruling The Alaska Senate Democrats also asked the governor to seek a stay of the Thomspon ruling until the decision is overturned by the en banc proceedings or until Alaska has enacted new, constitutionally permissible contribution limits.
The panel’s decision struck down Alaska’s $500 annual individual campaign contribution limit to candidates, the $500 annual individual campaign contribution limits to political groups, and the aggregate $3,000 out-of-state contribution limit that a candidate can accept. The decision, without further legal action, would mean unlimited amounts of money could be funneled into political campaigns in Alaska.
In the letter to Governor Dunleavy, the Alaska Senate Democrats observe, “If the court’s ruling stands, there will be no limits on individual campaign contributions to candidates or political groups, and no limits on nonresidents’ campaign contributions. Alaskans recognize the corrosive effects of big money in politics and understand that elections should not be decided simply by wealthy individuals capable of making unlimited campaign contributions—including Outsiders who do not live and work here, and cannot vote here, but seek influence over Alaska’s elected representatives for favorable policy from which they will reap benefits.”
“This decision dramatically shifts the balance of power in our electoral process to the wealthy class who seek influence over the decisions of our elected officials. It has thrown a wrench into the public’s trust and will allow the affluent to steal our elections. The administration should act quickly to prevent the rich from having a greater voice in our democracy than Alaskans,” said Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage). “Governor Dunleavy has the opportunity right before him to seek further legal action to prevent that shift of power before campaigning season kicks into high gear.”
“We want to keep big money out of our political campaigns. Hardworking, everyday Alaskans expect their voices to be heard over multimillionaires, including those from out of state,” said Senator Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks). “The governor has a duty to defend our laws. This decision is damaging and negatively impacts our elections in Alaska. We implore Governor Dunleavy to use his authority to pursue further legal avenues to stop the ruling from becoming law. Alaskans expect their elected officials to be elected by them, not multimillionaires and special interests from the Lower-48.”
Senator Bill Wielechowski, Senator Scott Kawasaki, Senator Tom Begich (D-Anchorage), Senator Elvi Gray-Jackson (D-Anchorage), Senator Jesse Kiehl (D-Juneau), and Senator Donny Olson (D-Golovin) signed the letter to Governor Dunleavy.
To prevent the Thompson decision from taking effect, the state must submit the petition for rehearing en banc and request a stay of the ruling by August 16, 2021.