Comprehensive Democracy Reform Wins in Alaska

Juneau Alaska
Juneau Alaska. Photo via Public Domain.

Alaska voters have propelled the state forward by enacting comprehensive democracy reform with wide-reaching effects on state elections.

By passing Ballot Measure 2, Alaskans will know the true source of election spending by shining light on the sources of dark money, as well as providing voters with greater choice in their elections through open primaries and ranked choice voting in general elections.

Ballot Measure 2’s success is due to the committed effort of Alaskans for Better Elections, which was supported by civil society groups, grassroots activists, and bipartisan and independent legislators.

Ballot Measure 2’s impact on transparency requirements for election spending is especially noteworthy for other states and cities across the country looking to vindicate voters’ right to know who is spending money to influence state and local elections.

After the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United opened the door to unlimited corporate spending and super PACs—political committees that operate independently of a candidate and may accept and spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections—outside spending on elections has soared.

While campaign finance laws typically require at least political committees to disclose their donors, they often fail to cover other types of outside spenders, such as LLCs. And even when outside spenders are required to disclose information about where their money came from, most laws do not require them to trace back the money to its original source.

Because of these gaps in many existing campaign finance systems, wealthy special interests are able to hide their influence on elections by giving to groups that are not required to disclose their donors or by funneling their money through an intermediary before it reaches the outside spender.

The end result is huge amounts of dark money—that is, money whose source is obscured by tactics like these—pouring into elections, leaving voters without valuable information as to who is trying to influence them. Indeed, since Citizens United, more than $1 billion of dark money has been spent on elections.

Ballot Measure 2 fixes this massive problem for Alaskans in a straightforward way. Once a person contributes more than $2,000 to groups that spend money to influence candidate elections, the contributor must report the true source of that money.

Similarly, any group that spends money to influence candidate elections must disclose the true source of any contributions that exceed $2,000. As a result, wealthy special interests will no longer be able to hide behind shell corporations, super PACs, and other intermediaries to shield the true source of money spent to influence these elections.

Additionally, on-ad disclaimers will provide voters with information about who is really paying for political ads. While Alaska law already requires the top contributors to a spender be identified in ads paid for by the spender, such disclaimers are currently limited by naming only entities that directly provided money to the spender, such as intermediaries passing along funds from wealthy special interests.

Those paying for election communications will now be required to identify their top contributors based on the true sources of those funds, ensuring that Alaskan voters will know who is responsible for funding them.

Alaska’s approach to ensuring meaningful transparency in election spending should be applauded, and other states and cities should enact similar laws to shine a light on the true source of election spending.

Patrick is CLC's Director, State Campaign Finance.