Court nixes some caps for Alaska campaign contributions

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A divided federal appeals court panel has struck down several campaign contribution caps in Alaska, including a $500-a-year limit on what an individual can give a candidate.

The decision, released Friday, also struck down a $500-a-year limit on individual contributions to non-party groups and the $3,000-a-year cap in total nonresident donations for candidates for offices like state House.

It upheld as constitutional a $5,000 limit on what political parties can contribute to municipal candidates.

A statement from the Alaska Department of Law says it has two weeks to decide whether to seek review by a larger panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. If the state does not file a petition, the ruling would take effect seven days after the filing deadline.

The department is evaluating its options, according to the statement.

Erin Chlopak, director of campaign finance strategy with the Campaign Legal Center, which also supported the state’s position, said the higher nonresident caps in place for races like state Senate or governor were not challenged in the case and are unaffected.

Robin Brena, an attorney who represented plaintiffs David Thompson, Aaron Downing and Jim Crawford, hailed Friday’s ruling as a win for free speech. He also said it put “balance back in the political process.”

He noted the ruling in the context of a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that paved the way for corporations, unions and interest groups to make unlimited independent expenditures.