A weeklong trial in a lawsuit challenging the state’s campaign contribution limits came to a close Tuesday, with U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess asking probing questions of attorneys defending the state’s limits on nonresident contributions and expressing some concern limits set at least a decade ago haven’t risen with inflation. Kevin Clarkson, attorney for the plaintiffs who say their free-speech rights are hurt by the donation caps, said in his closing arguments the state never overcame a fundamental hurdle, proving the $500 maximum a person can give to a candidate per year is the proper amount to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption, as the law intends. Proving why that number is correct is the state’s “first step,” but the state never met that obligation, he asserted. The constitutional challenge — brought in November by Alaska Republican Party District 18, Alaskans Aaron Downing and Jim Crawford and Wisconsin resident David Thompson — challenges the $500 limit and three other contribution caps. The Alaska Public Offices Commission is named as the defendant.
The case was tried without a jury. Burgess did not give a timeline for when he would issue a decision, but one is not expected for at least a month. A decision to loosen the limits could reshape this year’s legislative races by increasing the amount contributors can donate to candidates.
State attorney Margaret Paton-Walsh said Clarkson’s view of the law is wrong. The state doesn’t need to show a certain amount is perfect. It does need to ensure the limits allow candidates to raise enough money to run effective campaigns while reducing the potential for the appearance of corruption or actual corruption.
The state’s limits also protect the free-speech rights of candidates and contributors, she said.