Thursday, March 23, 2006
Ninth Circuit Upholds Alaska Restrictions on Group ‘Electioneering’
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Alaska’s restrictions on efforts by advocacy groups to influence the outcome of elections serve compelling state interests and do not violate the First Amendment rights of those groups and their members, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
Citing McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, 540 U.S. 93 (2003), which upheld similar restrictions in the federal McCain-Feingold law, Judge William Fletcher rejected a challenge by the Alaska Right to Life Committee. While the language of the federal and Alaska statutes differs in some respects, Fletcher said, the substance is largely the same and the Alaska RTL challenge fails for the same reasons that challenges to the federal law were rejected in McConnell.
The Alaska law, as amended in 2001 and 2002 — among other things — restricts ads that mention a candidate if they are run within 30 days preceding an election. Such ads are considered “electioneering communications,” and are illegal unless the groups that run them register with the state, disclose their expenditures, and include a disclaimer in each ad identifying the group as the source of the message.
In challenging the law in a complaint filed the day before the 2002 general election, the Alaska group said state officials violated its rights by informing it weeks earlier that it would be in violation of the law if it proceeded with a proposed telephone advertising campaign.
The campaign would have consisted of automated telephoning of voters’ residences. Each recipient would have received a prerecorded message informing the voter that the Republican candidate for governor, Frank Murkowski — who won the election and now holds the office — opposed state funding of abortions, “partial birth abortions,” and abortions for minors without parental consent, and that his Democratic opponent, Fran Ulmer, held the opposite views on those issues.
The message would have concluded with the words, “Please be sure to vote.”
A federal district judge rejected the challenge, including the contention that the statute was vague in that it included in the definition of “electioneering communication” ads that “indirectly” mention a candidate and that “address...an issue of national, state, or local political importance.”
Fletcher agreed with the district judge that while the challenged language differs from the phrasing of McCain-Feingold, it is easily understood in context.
Fletcher went on to say that the restrictions are not unduly burdensome, since the group remains free to raise unlimited and spend unlimited funds in order to communicate its views, including its support of or opposition to candidates, and the burden that is imposed is outweighed by important public interests, including deterring corruption and the appearance of corruption and “informing voters who or what entity is trying to persuade them to vote in a certain way.”
Senior Judges Melvin R. Brunetti and Alfred T. Goodwin concurred in the opinion.
The case is Alaska Right to Life Committee v. Miles, 04-35599.
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