Requested by: Cora Sakeagak, Treasurer
On Behalf of: Arctic Rights Coalition
Prepared by: Jenifer Kohout, Assistant Director
Date issued: April 30, 1998
Subject: Application of the campaign disclosure
law to the proposed activities
of a ballot measure group
This letter responds to your request for an advisory opinion regarding the permissible activities of a ballot measure group under the campaign disclosure law.
Depending on its primary purpose, the Arctic Rights Coalition (ARC) has several options with regard to its status under the campaign disclosure law. First, if ARCs primary purpose is to promote alcohol-free communities via the electoral process, then it should continue to register with the Commission as a single issue group. All community events sponsored by the organization should be geared towards the passage of alcohol related measures.
If ARC determines that its primary purpose is broader than the promotion of laws banning alcohol and therefore that it does not wish to remain a single issue group, then it has two options. First, it may cease to be a single issue group under campaign disclosure law and subsequently disburse its campaign contributions consistent with 2 AAC 50.400. Second, if ARC wishes to keep its campaign assets for future elections, it may create a single issue PAC within ARC. In that case, ARC would transfer all of its campaign assets to the PAC. The PAC must register with the APOC and all activities which are directly intended to influence the outcome of an election must be undertaken and reported by the PAC.
Under any of these scenarios, ARC may expand its activities to include the entire North Slope Borough. If it does, it should ensure that ARC or ARC PACs 1998 registration reflects this new focus.
AS 15.13.050. Registration before expenditure.
(a) Before making an expenditure in support of or in opposition to a candidate or before making an expenditure in support of or in opposition to a ballot proposition or question, each person other than an individual shall register, on forms provided by the commission, with the commission.
AS 15.13.112. Uses of campaign contributions held by candidate or group.
(a) Except as otherwise provided, campaign contributions held by a candidate or group may be used only to pay the expenses of the candidate or group, and the campaign expenses incurred by the candidate or group, that reasonably relate to election campaign activities, and in those cases only as authorized by this chapter.
AS 15.13.065. Contributions.
(c) Except for reports required by AS 15.13.040 and 15.13.110 and except for the requirements of AS 15.13.050 [registration before expenditure], 15.13.060 [campaign treasurers], and 15.13.112 [uses of campaign contributions held by candidate or group] -15.13.114 [disposition of prohibited contributions], the provisions of AS 15.13.010 - 15.13.116 do not apply to limit the authority of a person to make contributions to influence the outcome of a ballot proposition.
2 AAC 50.400. DISBURSEMENT OF A SURPLUS BALANCE IN A CAMPAIGN ACCOUNT.
(a) The disbursement of a surplus balance of a candidate or groups campaign account must be reported to the commission within 10 days after final disposition of the balance.
(c) A group disbursing the surplus balance in its campaign account may
(1) give the money to charity; or
(2) repay its contributors; or
(3) leave the money in a campaign account until the following election, if the group plans to remain active; however, any interest realized from a surplus in a campaign account must remain in the account and be reported on the first report required of the group when it is again active in an election; or
(4) contribute the money to a candidate or a group controlled by a candidate, subject to the $1,000 limitation and other prohibitions under AS 15.13 and 2 AAC 50, or to a political party or group supporting a ballot proposition or question.
You indicate that the Arctic Rights Coalition (ARC) was formed in 1995 to support a dry, alcohol-free status for the community of Barrow. Specifically, you state that ARC was formed in 1995 when Barrows alcohol status was put to the voters following a vote to overturn Barrows dry status and a subsequent legal challenge. ARC actively campaigned on the ballot issue during the election. Following the election ARC played an active role in sponsoring community activities including potlucks, dances and game nights.
Anticipating involvement in the October 1997 Local Option Election, ARC registered with the APOC for the purpose of raising funds to campaign for a continued dry status. Now that the campaign is over, you indicate that ARC would like to continue to sponsor activities offering alternatives to alcohol abuse. For example, ARC would "sponsor community discussion of the alcohol issue to help our residents look for other ways to deal with the problem of alcohol abuse."
In your letter to the Commission, you have attached a copy of ARCs mission statement. That statement reveals that your organization is dedicated to improving the general health of Arctic residents "with a major emphasis on the devastation which alcohol abuse has caused." Your proposed community activities are consistent with this mission.
I. You ask if ARC may continue to operate as an active community organization under APOC rules. If not, may ARC dissolve its APOC status until it becomes politically active again?
Under the campaign disclosure law, groups must register annually before making expenditures to influence the outcome of an election. A group is defined broadly to include "any combination of two or more individuals acting jointly who organize for the principal purpose to influence the outcome of an election."
On a group registration form, a treasurer must indicate the groups type. There are five types of groups: political action committees, candidate-controlled groups, groups associated with political parties, draft groups, and single issue campaign or ballot measure groups.
In 1997, ARC registered with the Commission as a single issue group formed to oppose a ballot proposition. That designation was consistent with the groups activity. At this point, ARC has several options. First, ARC may continue to operate as a single issue ballot group under the campaign disclosure law. Second, it may elect to not register and cease its political activity. Third, it may form a single issue political action committee (PAC) as a subcommittee of the broader organization.
1. In the first scenario, to the extent the primary purpose of ARC is to advocate for alcohol-free communities in Barrow and the North Slope via the electoral process, ARC retains its status as a single issue group. Before making any expenditures related to the promotion of alcohol-free communities, ARC should renew its registration with the Commission. All expenditures must be related to certification and successful passage of ballot measures banning alcohol throughout the North Slope. Some of the activities you describe might be related to an election if ARC uses them as an opportunity to advocate for passage of alcohol laws. Examples include "sober community activities including potlucks, dances and game nights" and community discussions regarding alcohol abuse.
2. ARC may decide that promoting alcohol-free communities via the electoral process is one of the goals of the organization but not its "primary purpose." If this is the case, then ARC should dissolve its status as an issue group under the campaign disclosure law and disburse its surplus balance. According to commission regulations, ARC must disburse its surplus campaign balance by any one of the following options: giving the money to charity; repaying contributors; leaving the money in a campaign account; or contributing the money to a political party or group supporting a ballot proposition or question. 2 AAC 50.400. Once this is done, ARC is no longer subject to the campaign disclosure law for its non-political activities. However, if ARC became active on a specific ballot issue, it would have to re-register with the APOC.
3. If ARC wanted to continue to do community activities and be politically active at the same time, it could establish a subgroup specifically dedicated to election activities. For illustration, the group could be called ARC-Vote. All the money that ARC had previously received as campaign contributions would be placed in the ARC-Vote account. ARC-Vote would register with the APOC and file reports disclosing its election-related activity. Meanwhile, ARC would be free to fundraise in order to pay the costs of nonpolitical community events and activities offering alternatives to alcohol abuse.
Regardless of which scenario ARC pursues, it may not contribute money raised during a ballot issue campaign to candidates. If ARC wants to support or oppose specific candidates based on their stance on the alcohol issue, it must establish a separate fund. The fund would consist of contributions which complied with the campaign disclosure restrictions on candidate contributions.
II. You ask whether ARC may use the funds it has raised campaigning on past city-wide elections to campaign on a borough-wide election.
You indicate in your letter that ARC might decide to advocate for a borough-wide Local Option election. To make that determination, ARC would like to conduct a regional poll assessing public sentiment on the boroughs alcohol status.
On its 1997 registration, ARC indicated that its purpose was to campaign in the Barrow municipal election. You add, however, that your mission statement encompasses the entire North Slope and that in 1995, ARC did involve other North Slope communities in its Barrow campaign.
Even though the funds raised during the last campaign were targeted towards the Barrow election, ARC or ARC-Vote could use its funds to promote alcohol-free communities in a broader regional area which encompasses the municipality of Barrow. Consistent with this intent, however, when ARC or ARC-Vote files its 1998 registration with the Commission, it should indicate that the group plans to spend money campaigning in a North Slope Borough ballot election.
Specifically, you mention that ARC is considering conducting a regional poll as a first step towards advocating for a borough-wide Local Option election. If ARCs primary purpose is advocating passage of local laws banning alcohol, it should file its 1998 registration before undertaking that poll. If ARC has a broader mission and will be forming a subgroup to undertake political activity, ARCs political subgroup (i.e. ARC-Vote) must register. Under that scenario, any expenditures related to polling in preparation for a potential borough-wide election should be undertaken by ARC-Vote and subsequently reported by ARC-Vote.
Depending on ARCs primary purpose, the organization should register as a single issue group; dissolve its group status and disburse its campaign surplus; or establish a political subgroup to register before making any election-related expenditures. In addition, ARC or ARC-Vote may focus its political activities on the North Slope Borough as long as it files a registration consistent with that focus.
The Commission approved this advisory opinion on June 24, 1998.. 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.