Governor Dunleavy Urged to Seek Rehearing and Stay in Campaign Contribution Limits Case
Posted & Edited By MARY KAUFFMAN
August 05, 2021
A panel of three judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its July 30, 2021 decision on Thompson v. Hebdon (pdf) that Alaska’s campaign contribution limits violated the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. On remand from the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit's panel explained that, on top of its danger signs, the limit significantly restricts the amount of funds available to challengers to run competitively against incumbents, and the already-low limit is not indexed for inflation. Furthermore, Alaska has not established a special justification for such a low limit. The panel also concluded that, similarly, Alaska has not met its burden of showing that the $500 individual-to-group limit is closely drawn to restrict contributors from circumventing the individual-to-candidate limit.
The lawsuit was initiated in 2015 by three individuals, David Thompson, Aaron Downing, Jim Crawford and a subdivision of the Alaska Republican Party who sought to contribute funds to political candidates exceeding the donation limits established by Alaska law. The litigants argued the donation limits unconstitutionally restricted their freedom of speech. They sued members of the Alaska Public Offices Commission, contending that Alaska’s individual-to-candidate and individual-to-group contribution limits violate the First Amendment.
Today, the Alaska Senate Democrats sent a letter to Governor Mike Dunleavy (pdf) 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.
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.
Note: A petition for rehearing is submitted to the panel that decided the case. A petition for rehearing en banc is distributed to all active judges of the court, to senior judges of the court who request distribution, and to any senior or visiting judge who may have heard and decided the appeal.
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