State of Alaska

Department of Administration

Alaska Public Offices Commission

Alaska Department of Administration, Alaska Public Offices Commission

A098-02-CD

Number: A098-02-CD

Requested by: Len Karpinski

On Behalf of: Alaska Libertarian Party

Prepared by: Jenifer Kohout, Assistant Director

Date issued: March 2, 1998

Subject: Application of the campaign disclosure law
to the voter registration efforts of the Alaska Libertarian Party
AO 98-02-CD


This letter responds to the January 23, 1998 request for an advisory opinion regarding application of the campaign disclosure law to the efforts of the Alaska Libertarian Party (ALP) to become a recognized “political party” under election law. You also ask whether the Libertarian National Committee (LNC) is a “political party” under Alaskan campaign disclosure law. The advice in this letter was approved by an affirmative vote of four Commission members on February 26, 1998.

Summary

The Libertarian National Committee is not a “political party” under Alaska campaign disclosure law. Instead, the LNC is an out-of-state group. As such, it may not contribute to Alaska candidates. Before it contributes to Alaska groups or parties, it must satisfy the campaign disclosure provisions that apply to groups—including limitations on the types and amounts of contributions.

Even if the LNC does not comply with the restrictions on group activity, the ALP may accept money from the LNC if the following conditions are met:

? First, the ALP segregates its voter registration activities. The Commission recommends that the ALP create a separate group for the sole purpose of registering a sufficient number of voters to qualify as a state political party with the Division of Elections. Money held by the group may only be used for voter registration activities. Registration of voters to achieve party status is distinguished from the party-building activities of established parties because it is specifically recognized by statute.
? Second, once the ALP creates a separate group for voter registration activities, the group must register and file quarterly reports consistent with AS 15.13.110(e). The ALP voter registration group may receive contributions from any person in any amount.
? Third, once the Division of Elections certifies that the ALP voter registration group has registered a sufficient number of voters to qualify as a party, the group should seek an advisory opinion from the Commission regarding the use and disbursement of the account.

The Law

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; and
(B) a subordinate unit of the organized group of voters qualifying as a political party under (A) of this paragraph if, consistent with the rules or bylaws of the political party, the unit conducts or supports campaign operations in a municipality, neighborhood, election district, or precinct. . . .

Specific Restrictions on Out-of-State Groups

AS 15.13.072 (a)(3). A candidate or an individual who has filed with the Commission the document necessary to permit that individual to incur election-related expenses under AS 15.13.100 may not solicit or accept a contribution from . . . a group organized under the laws of another state, resident in another state, or whose participants are not residents of this state at the time the contribution is made. . . . ”

Facts

In your letter to the Commission, you state that “[t]he Libertarian Party works in Alaska, as in all 50 states, to elect Libertarian Party candidates for president and Congress as well as state and local offices.” You indicate that the ALP currently qualifies as a political party under campaign finance law because it is 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.” AS 15.13.400(10)(A). According to Division of Elections records, in 1982, ALP candidates Randolph and Thompson received 14.9% of the votes cast for Governor.

The ALP, however, is not a recognized political party under the definition administered by the Division of Elections. Until 1997, AS 15.60 defined political party as a group of voters who had nominated a gubernatorial candidate who received at least three percent of the vote in the last preceding general election for governor. The ALP lost its status as a recognized political party with the Division of Elections in 1986. However, it currently qualifies as a “limited political party”, a designation which permits it to select candidates for electors for President and Vice President of the United States.

You indicate that the ALP is currently working to register at least 6400 Alaskan voters to qualify the ALP as a state-recognized party for the purposes of ballot access. To carry out this effort, you plan “to ask the Libertarian National Committee . . . for the sum of roughly twelve thousand dollars as a grant to its state party for expenses related to registering the six thousand voters required.” You indicate that you view the ALP “as members of a local subsidiary of the national party.” You indicate that all of the ALP dues paying members are also members of the LNC . . . .”


Analysis

You ask whether the Libertarian National Committee is a “political party” under Alaska campaign finance law.

No. Under AS 15.13, a group of voters is considered a political party if it nominates a gubernatorial candidate who received at least three percent of the votes cast in one of the last five preceding gubernatorial general elections. Under the election law administered by the Division of Elections, nomination is tied to residency in Alaska. i.e. subscribers to a nominating petition must be voters registered in the State of Alaska, AS 15.25.180. Thus, the LNC is incapable of nominating a candidate for governor and thus incapable of satisfying the definition of “political party” in AS 15.13.400(10). Instead, under AS 15.13, the LNC is an out-of-state “group” if it makes expenditures the “major purpose of which is to influence the outcome of an [Alaska state or local] election.” AS 15.13.400(5).

While an out-of-state group may not contribute to an Alaskan candidate, AS 15.13.072(a)(3); it may contribute to an Alaskan group or party if it complies with all provisions of AS 15.13 which apply to group activity. For example, to participate in an Alaska election, an out-of-state group like the LNC may not accept contributions over $500; may not accept contributions from corporations, unions, or other business entities; and may not accept more than ten percent of its money from outside Alaska. An out-of-state group which satisfies these and other requirements must register with the APOC before making expenditures in Alaska; and must file all required reports.

In response to an advisory opinion request by the Republican Party, the Commission addressed how a national party might structure a segregated account to satisfy the restrictions described above. Please consult that advisory opinion for additional information. (See AO 97-08-CD)
You ask whether ALP can legally receive funds from LNC for the purpose of registering Libertarian voters. In addition, you ask if the ALP can receive funds from the LNC for other purposes.

As described in the section above, the LNC may not contribute to an Alaskan group or party unless the LNC satisfies the requirements for group activity set out in AS 15.13. The only current exception to this rule is found in AS 15.13.065(c) which permits the LNC to contribute to a ballot measure group. Because the effort to register voters to achieve party status with the Division of Elections is comparable to the activities of a ballot measure group in the signature gathering stage, staff proposes that the LNC also be permitted to contribute to a group undertaking that specific activity.

The facts you have described raise a circumstance that the Commission has not yet had the opportunity to address. 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 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.

In your letter, you indicated that the ALP is working to register at least 6400 Alaskan voters and that you plan to ask the LNC for a grant to assist in this process. This activity can be distinguished from the ALP’s efforts to support candidates. In several ways, this effort is analogous to a ballot initiative group in the signature gathering stage. By registering voters, the ALP is working to achieve party status. If the ALP 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 a sufficient number of voters, it must continue to function as a non-party group.

Pursuit of party status also distinguishes the ALP’s effort to register voters from the party-building activities of 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 ALP elects to conduct all of its activities from one account, it is subject to the campaign disclosure restrictions on parties active in candidate campaigns. If the ALP segregates its activities, however, it will have more flexibility with regards to its effort to register voters. The Commission recommends that the ALP 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.

If the ALP created a separate group to conduct a voter registration effort, it could accept a grant from the LNC to carry out voter registration activities. The money, however, must be spent on the effort to register voters for the ALP.

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 ALP 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 certified that the ALP voter registration group has successfully registered enough voters to qualify as a political party under election law, then the group should ask the APOC for an advisory opinion regarding the use and disbursement of any money remaining in the voter registration account. That determination may turn on the type and amount of contributions received; the group’s status with the Division of Elections and the APOC; and the applicable law at the time.

Conclusion

The LNC is not a “political party” under Alaska campaign disclosure law. It may participate in Alaska elections only if it satisfies all campaign disclosure requirements for group activity in Alaska.

Even if the LNC does not satisfy the campaign disclosure provisions regarding group activity, the LNC may provide a grant for the registration of ALP voters if the money is deposited into a voter registration group account which is used only to register voters. Once the Division of Elections has certified that the ALP has registered a sufficient number of voters to qualify as a recognized political party, the ALP voter registration group should consult with the Commission regarding the use and disbursement of the account.

The advice in this letter was approved by an affirmative vote of four Commission members 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.