Requested by: Ray Metcalfe
On Behalf of: Republican Moderate Party, Inc.
Prepared by: Jenifer Kohout, Assistant Director
Date issued: March 2, 1998
Subject: Application of the campaign disclosure law to the proposed activities of the Republican Moderate Party, Inc.
This letter responds to your December 8, 1997 request for an advisory opinion regarding application of the campaign finance disclosure law to the efforts of your group to become a "party" under the campaign disclosure law.
According to your description, the primary goal of the Republican Moderate Party, Inc. (RMP) is the formation of a new political party under Alaska election law. Related to this effort, the RMP plans to endorse candidates. To the extent that the RMP engages in activities intended to influence the outcome of an election, like supporting candidates, it functions as a non-party group under campaign disclosure law.
RMP efforts to register a sufficient number of voters to qualify for party status with the Division of Elections may be distinguished from other activities undertaken by the RMP. As a result, the RMP may establish a separate group for the sole purpose of registering enough voters to qualify as a party with the Division of Elections. Registration of voters to achieve party status is distinguished from the party-building activities of established parties because it is specifically recognized by statute. The voter registration group is analogous to a ballot initiative group in the signature gathering stage with regards to the contributions limitations and reporting requirements.
Because the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) does not implement or enforce the charitable gaming law, you should consult the Department of Revenue regarding the charitable gaming activities of the RMP. To the extent the RMP engages in raffles or lotteries that generate proceeds which may be used to influence the outcome of an election, it must disclose all costs and proceeds associated with those activities.
Definition of Group
AS 15.13.400(5) "group" means
(A) every state and regional executive committee of political party; and
(B) any combination of two or more individuals acting jointly who organize for the principal purpose to influence the outcome of one or more elections . . . .
Definition of Party
AS 15.13.400(10) "political party" means
(A) an organized group of voters that represents a political program and that nominated a candidate for governor who received at least three percent of the total votes cast at any one of the last five preceding general elections for governor . . . .
In your letter to the Commission, you state that "[t]he Republican Moderate Party, Inc., has a primary goal of providing a vehicle that will facilitate the creation of a new political party." You indicate that the primary focus of the RMP is on formation. The RMP is seeking full party status in Alaska and plans to form subsidiary corporations in every state.
You indicate that the bylaws of the RMP bar the RMP "from taking precise positions on specific issues." Instead, the RMP may issue a one page statement of general philosophy, which it has done. You have attached a current copy of the RMPs statement of general philosophy to your advisory opinion request.
You state that the Party intends to endorse "candidates who contractually agree to abide by the philosophy defined in [its] Dear Concerned Voter letter." Candidates who are not affiliated with a state party must file a nominating petition with the Division of Elections to be placed on the ballot. You indicate that at this point, no such candidate associated with the RMP exists.
You ask whether the Republican Moderates should set up separate accounts for its separate activities.
From your advisory opinion request, it appears that RMP has two simultaneous goals. One is to endorse candidates who support the philosophy of the group. The second is to qualify as a political party with the Division of Elections. You indicate that you are aware of the contribution limits which would apply to RMP candidates and to the RMP itself, in supporting those candidates. You distinguish this from the RMPs efforts to qualify for party status with the Division of Elections--which you state requires you to either run a candidate for Governor and garner at least three percent of the vote or register 6500 voters.
This is the first opportunity the Commission has had to address the issues raised by your advisory opinion request. Previously, the definitions of "political party" under AS 15.13, as administered by the APOC, and AS 15.60, under the Division of Elections jurisdiction, were comparable. Both required that to be a "party", a group representing a political program had to have nominated a candidate for governor who received at least three percent of the vote in the gubernatorial election. For campaign disclosure purposes, the definition extended to the last five elections; for ballot purposes, the definition applied to the preceding election. In 1997, however, the legislature amended the definition in AS 15.60 to also permit groups to qualify as parties for ballot purposes if they registered voters equal to three percent of the votes cast for Governor in the last election.
Candidate Support. To the extent RMP works to advance its political philosophy and promote candidates who are supportive of that philosophy, it is a political group under the campaign disclosure law. As a group, the RMP must register and report. Once registered, the RMP may accept contributions and make expenditures consistent with the campaign disclosure law as it pertains to groups. For example, the RMP may accept contributions of up to $500 from individuals and $1000 from groups. These limitations apply even with respect to the RMPs efforts to garner at least 3% of the gubernatorial voteone of the means to qualify for party status under election law.
Signature Gathering. Distinct from the RMPs plans to support specific candidates, is the effort to register a sufficient number of voters to qualify for party status under elections law. In several ways, this effort is analogous to a ballot initiative group in the signature-gathering stage. By registering voters, the RMP is working to achieve party status. If the RMP successfully gathers a sufficient number of signatures, it achieves party status with the Division of Elections and earns certain privileges under election law. Until it registers sufficient voters, it must continue to function as a non-party group.
Pursuit of party status also distinguishes the RMPs effort to register voters from party-building activities by groups with full party status. The statutory scheme in AS 15.60 clearly anticipates the creation of new parties with this mechanism. For this reason, staff recommends that the Commission permit groups seeking party status with the Division of Elections to create a separate group to register voters.
If the RMP elects to conduct all of its activities from one account, it is subject to the campaign disclosure restrictions described in the section regarding "candidate support." If the RMP segregates its activities, however, it will have more flexibility with regards to its effort to register voters. The Commission recommends that the RMP create a separate group with the sole purpose of registering a sufficient number of voters to qualify as a party with the Division of Elections. Like a ballot measure group in the signature-gathering stage, a voter registration group would not be subject to the same limitation on contributions related to candidate campaigns. Instead, it could accept contributions in any amount from any person.
The registration and reporting of a voter registration group would occur as set out in AS 15.13.110(e). A group formed to register voters to qualify for party status with the Division of Elections must register with the APOC before making expenditures. After registration, the group must file reports "within 10 days after the end of each calendar quarter on the contributions received and expenditures made during the preceding calendar quarter."
All expenditures by the voter registration group must be related to the registration of enough voters to qualify as a political party with the Division of Elections. The RMP voter registration group may not make any expenditures which expressly support a specific candidate or influence the outcome of a ballot measure.
Once the Division of Elections certifies that the RMP voter registration group has successfully registered enough voters to qualify as a political party under election law, then the group should ask for an advisory opinion regarding the use or disbursement of any money remaining in the voter registration account. That determination may depend on the type and amount of contributions received; the groups status with the Division of Elections and the APOC; and the applicable law at the time.
You also ask how the Republican Moderates may use the proceeds from a gaming permit.
In addition to substantially revising AS 15.13, the campaign finance reform act which took effect January 1, 1997, also amended laws pertaining to charitable gaming. Specifically, AS 05.15.150(a) was amended to prohibit "the direct or indirect payment of any portion of the net proceeds of a charitable gaming activity, except the proceeds of a raffle and lottery . . . to aid candidates for public office or groups that support or oppose candidates for public offices; . . . to a political party or to an organization affiliated with a political party; or . . . to a group, as that term is defined in AS 15.13.400, or a political group, as that term is defined in AS 15.60, that seeks to influence the outcome of an election."
The APOC does not have jurisdiction over charitable gaming activities or the implementation of AS 05.15.150. If you have specific questions regarding the use of gaming money, you should consult with the Charitable Gaming Unit of the Department of Revenue, located in Anchorage, at 269-6590.
To the extent the RMP uses its gaming permit to host raffles or lotteries which generate proceeds used for political purposes, it must disclose all costs and proceeds associated with those activities on its campaign disclosure reports. The RMP would report a raffle or lottery as an exempt fundraiser if 25 or more tickets are sold and the price of a single ticket or the amount received from any one person purchasing tickets does not exceed $50 (if someone contributed more than $50, then the name, amount and type of contribution must be recorded). 2 AAC 50.326. On an exempt fundraiser form, the RMP would describe the activity and disclose where and when it occurred, the price of each ticket, the total number of tickets sold, and the total amount of the proceeds. In addition, the RMP would report the total amount of income from the event on the groups campaign income schedule.
The RMP is a non-party group for the purposes of the campaign disclosure law. As such, it is subject to the provisions of the campaign disclosure law. It must register and report all campaign activity related to the upcoming election.
With regards to voter registration, the RMP may form a separate group with the specific purpose of registering the required number of voters to qualify as a party with the Division of Elections. That group is comparable in several respects to a ballot measure group in the signature-gathering stage. As such, it could accept contributions from any persons in any amount. The group would be required to register before making expenditures and to report on a quarterly basis under AS 15.13.110(e). Once the Division of Elections certifies that the RMP has registered a sufficient number of voters to qualify as a recognized political party, the RMP voter registration group should consult with the Commission regarding the use and disbursement of the account.
Before using its charitable gaming permit, the RMP should consult the Department of Revenue. Permissible activities must be disclosed on the RMP campaign disclosure reports..
The Commission approved this advisory opinion on February 26, 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.