Requested by: Douglas Rickey, Treasurer
On Behalf of: Greater Juneau Democratic District
Prepared by: Greg Granquist, Group Coordinator
Date issued: June 7, 1997
Subject: Charitable Donations by a Political Party
You have asked the Alaska Public Offices Commission (Commission) for an advisory opinion concerning a proposed expenditure by the Greater Juneau Democratic District (GJDD). Specifically, you ask if GJDD may donate approximately $600 in net revenues from its annual Legislative Skit to two local charities even though a provision in the law limits the uses of campaign contributions held by a candidate or group to activities reasonably related to an election.
Staff's proposed answer is yes; GJDD may make donations to charities. This interpretation is reasonable because the campaign disclosure law permits candidates to donate unused campaign contributions to charities. Alternatively, when a political party makes a charitable donation, the expenditure is reasonably related to an election campaign because it enhances the public perception of the party and those candidates which the party endorses.
The GJDD is a group which is a subdivision of the Alaska Democratic Party. For many years the GJDD has sponsored an annual one evening theatrical production of political satire referred to as the "Legislative Skit." The Legislative Skit has evolved over the years into a prestigious event, a semi-formal affair with a professional quality production.
GJDD rents a hall, contracts with a caterer, and pays all the expenses associated with the event. Tickets to the event are sold and deposited in an account maintained by GJDD. The proceeds are reported to the Commission along with other contributions to the group.
The skit is performed by Republican and Democratic legislative staff. Because members of the Republican legislative staff were uncomfortable helping to raise funds which might be used to defeat members of their own party, an agreement was reached in 1996 that proceeds from the event would be donated to "charity," specifically, to non-profit organizations chosen by representatives of the Democratic and Republican legislative staff.
Proceeds from the 1996 event, amounting to $675, were donated to the Alaska Food Bank, and Friends of Recycling. This years event was held on April 12, 1997. All ticket purchasers were advised that the proceeds would be donated to charity. This year, the non-profits chosen to receive the funds are the Alaska Food Bank and the Perseverance Theater.
The Existing Statute and Regulations
AS 15.13.112 Uses of campaign funds held by a candidate or group limits the use of campaign contributions held by a candidate or group to expenses which "reasonably relate to election campaign activities. Contributions may not be used to give a personal benefit to another person, loaned to a person, or used to make contributions to another candidate or group.
AS 15.13.116 Disbursement of campaign assets after an election permits a candidate, under subsection (a)(4) to make donations, without condition, to organizations qualified as charitable organizations under U.S.C 501 (c)(3), provided the organization is not controlled by the candidate or a member of the candidates immediate family.
AS 15.13.400 Definition of expenditures, under section (4) defines an expenditure to include any payment made for use by a political party.
Alaskas new campaign disclosure law reform includes provisions, such as section AS 15.13.112, designed to insure that contributions to candidates and groups are used only for campaign purposes. One reason for this change was to reduce the potential for corruptive influence present when candidates were free to convert campaign funds to personal use. Permitting candidates, groups, or political parties to make donations to bona fide charities does not violate the reforms in the campaign disclosure law because such transactions do not personally benefit candidates or members of their campaigns or other groups.
Notwithstanding the intent to limit the use of campaign contributions to campaigns, there are several exceptions. For example, AS 15.13.116 permits candidates with a campaign surplus to disburse the unused campaign contributions by making donations to charities. Thus, after the conclusion of an election, campaign funds held by candidates maybe donated to charities.
It seems reasonable that if a candidate has an option of giving surplus funds to charity, a group should also be permitted to do so. Like candidates, groups often have unused funds after elections. Candidates must disburse their campaign assets after an election; among other alternatives, they may make donations to charity or carry funds forward to a future campaign. Groups are not required to disburse their assets following an election. However, similar to candidates, groups often wind down activity and become dormant. Permitting groups who voluntarily choose to do so to donate some of their campaign assets to charity is consistent with the subsection of AS 15.13.116 that permits candidates to do so.
Alternatively, in the case of political parties, charitable donations should be permitted because they do influence elections by enhancing the perception of the party making the donation, and, in turn, the candidates nominated by the party.
AS 15.13.400(4), which defines expenditures reportable under the campaign disclosure law, includes any payment for use by a party. The premise of this broad definition was affirmed most recently in AO97-08-CD, to Ken Jacobus and Republican Party of Alaska. Briefly, the opinion acknowledged that political parties exist to elect candidates to further a political program, and thus all payments by a political party ultimately serve to elect candidates. As a result, a donation by a political party to a charity, by serving to create good will for the party, would benefit the partys future candidates, and thus could be said to reasonably relate to influencing the outcome of an election.
The Commission approved this advisory opinion on June 19, 1997. The advice in this opinion applies only to the specific activity for which the advice was requested.
A copy of the original letter requesting the above advisory opinion is available upon request at the Alaska Public Offices Commission. (907) 276-4176.