The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
In 2015, as plaintiffs in Thompson, Crawford, and Downey v. APOC, we asked Kevin Clarkson, then in private practice, to represent us in filing litigation to restore our rights to freedom of speech which had been unconstitutionally abridged by the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
Upon Kevin’s appointment as Alaska’s Attorney General, Kevin’s law partner, Robin Brena and his associate, Laura Gould took over the case. We added Washington Supreme Court Counsel, Erin Murphy and Paul D. Clement with Kirkland & Ellis LLP for a deep bench. The Alaska Public Offices Commission is a subdivision of the State of Alaska and has unlimited legal fees as part of the state budget and a whole department to defend against our lawsuit. Our legal team was dogged in pursuit and effective beyond conventional wisdom.
Simply, Democrats won more races because of their APOC directed financial advantage.
It took seven years, one trip to the U. S. Supreme Court and two stops at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to win the case. We lost three of four claims at the local Federal District Court. We picked up another gain at the first appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Then came the triumph at the U. S. Supreme Court who, by seven to two, agreed with our claims, reversed the District Court, and remanded the case back to the Ninth Circuit to issue a judgement consistent with their precedents.
Aaron Downing, from the Mat-Su, passed on to his eternal reward during the lengthy legal process. David Thompson was a plaintiff because he wanted to contribute $100 to his brother-in-law, Wes Keller. He was denied that opportunity because of the arbitrary APOC limit on donations from out of state contributors. Fellow plaintiff, District 18, Republican Party of Alaska was also denied the ability to contribute beyond the party maximum to a mayoral candidate, Amy Demboski. I was denied the opportunity to donate more than $500 to the Alaska Miners Association. The arbitrary limits and bans on contributions exposed government bias. Government was putting its thumb on the scales of voters’ justice.
All of us shared a common desire to level the playing field. Republicans were outspent in most races. Democrats insisted that Alaska’s lowest limit in the United States for candidates and group contributions be retained. Simply, Democrats won more races because of their APOC directed financial advantage.
Liberals want to control your right of free speech and will introduce legislation to limit your contributions in political campaigns.
Ultimately, the fight was about appropriate direction by government. In short, did the State of Alaska have unbridled power to protect incumbents and favor candidates who supported big government? Did they have the power to limit my right as a citizen with no defined reason? They didn’t and the U. S. Supreme Court agreed.
What is the price of freedom of speech? God given freedoms should not be for sale in Alaska.
Eleven states currently operate with no limits on candidate contributions. Nationally, using Alaska’s new precedent will return campaigns to contests of ideas to how to run state government and stop the wholesale auction of candidates. The APOC advocated limits because of its fears of political corruption. Their fear was used to deny our freedom of speech. But, government’s subjective fear of consequences should never justify denial of your rights or mine.
The Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals used the speculation of future illegal contributions to deny all Alaskans their right to free speech. The Chief opined that since Alaska had experienced past political scandal, the potential for future corruption allowed the forfeiture of my rights. I take the opposite view. We found Legislative bad guys and put them in jail.
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Fortunately, that Chief’s reasoning was overpowered at the order of the U.S. Supreme Court and two of three appellate judges at the Ninth Circuit. They understood that the potential for wrongdoing was not an excuse for Alaskans to be denied their rights.
So where do we go from here? The Democrats in the Alaska Senate demanded that the Governor again appeal the final judgement. They wanted to preserve their financial advantage in finance. Understandable. On the other hand, Attorney General Taylor and Governor Mike Dunleavy protected our rights, refused additional delay on appeal, and ended the seven-year contest. They honored the Constitution of the United States. Thank you.
But this contest will continue. The liberals want to control your right of free speech and will introduce legislation to limit your contributions in political campaigns. Campaigns should be about ideas and a level playing field. Government has no business invading our God given rights like freedom of speech. Voters must have the final say in campaigns.
The views expressed here are those of the author.