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Campaign Reforms - Limits on "Soft-Money" Contributions to Political Parties: Alaska

In recent years, wealthy special interests increasingly have exploited the so-called "soft-money" loophole to funnel huge, unlimited donations to the national political parties, undermining existing "hard-money" limits on the amounts that donors may contribute for federal election campaigns. These soft-money contributions have been implicated in countless stories of improper influence linking soft money with everything from White House coffees to weakened tobacco legislation, bankruptcy "reform" that benefits creditors at the expense of consumers, stalled pharmaceutical pricing legislation, and similar policy outcomes.

Reformers have long sought to close the soft-money loophole at the federal level, which was created by an FEC regulatory ruling in 1978. But opponents of reform have argued that a soft-money ban would violate the First Amendment rights of contributors and political parties. On October 4, 2001, NVRI filed an amicus brief in Jacobus v. State of Alaska, No. 01-35666 (Ninth Circuit), the first case in which a federal appellate court will consider these arguments. In the Jacobus case, the State of Alaska is appealing a ruling by a federal district court in Alaska that struck down an Alaska law banning unlimited soft-money contributions to state political parties. NVRI's amicus brief argues that limits on soft-money contributions are constitutionally permissible because of the strong governmental interest in preventing large donors from wielding improper influence over parties and their candidates. David A. Wilson and James M. Dowd of the Washington, D.C. office of Hale & Dorr serve as co-counsel with the Institute in this case.

The case has important implications for campaign reform at the federal level: the McCain-Feingold and Shays-Meehan bills currently pending in Congress would limit soft money in federal campaigns, and the constitutionality of these bills will be called into question if the Alaska district court's decision is not reversed by the Ninth Circuit. A decision in the case is expected sometime in 2002.

Click here to read NVRI's brief in Jacobus v. State of Alaska.