State of Alaska

Department of Administration

Alaska Public Offices Commission

Alaska Department of Administration, Alaska Public Offices Commission

AO99-08-CD

Number: AO99-08-CD

Requested by: Len Karpinski, Chair
Alaska Libertarian Party

Prepared by: Jenifer Kohout, Assistant Director

Date issued: October 22, 1999

Subject:Disbursement of funds accepted to promote the
voter registration efforts of the Alaska Libertarian Party

This letter responds to your August 4, 1999 request for an advisory opinion regarding the plans of the Alaska Libertarian Party ("ALP") to disburse funds it deposited into its voter registration account.

Summary

When it created the voter registration account, the ALP agreed that all money deposited into the account would be used only for voter registration expenses related to the ALP’s efforts to secure political party status. Now that the ALP has qualified as a political party with the Division of Elections, it must keep or disburse its surplus money consistent with this original purpose. It may not use the money for any purposes related to state or local elections including ballot measure campaigns. Although nothing in state law precludes the ALP from using the money for federal election purposes, the Commission takes no position as to whether federal law permits you to use the voter registration funds in a federal election.

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 . . . .

Restrictions on Groups

AS 15.13.072(f). A group or political party may solicit or accept contributions from an individual who is not a resident of the state at the time the contribution is made, but the amounts accepted from individuals who are not residents may not exceed 10 percent of total contributions made to the group or political party during the calendar or group year in which the contributions are received.

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. . . .

Advisory Opinion to ALP (AO 98-02-CD) approved March 2, 1998.

Even though the Libertarian National Committee was an out-of-state group for the purposes of the campaign disclosure law, the ALP was permitted to accept money from the LNC if the following conditions were met:

First, the ALP created 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 could only be used for voter registration activities. Registration of voters to achieve party status was distinguished from the party-building activities of established parties because it was specifically recognized by statute.

Second, the voter registration group registered and filed quarterly reports consistent with AS 15.13.110(e). There were no limitations on who could contribute to the ALP voter registration group

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.

Facts

On March 2, 1998, the Commission issued an advisory opinion to you addressing the ALP’s efforts to register a sufficient number of voters to qualify as a state political party with the Division of Elections.

You indicated to the Commission 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." In 1998, however, the ALP was 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. In 1997, however, the legislature amended the definition in AS 15.60 to 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.

The ALP sought advice from the Commission as to how AS 15.13 applied to their efforts to register voters to achieve political party status. The Commission determined that if the ALP created a voter registration account which was used only to pay expenses associated with trying to qualify as a political party, the account would not be subject to contribution limitations in AS 15.13. The Commission reasoned that the effort of a group to qualify as a political party by registering voters was distinct from other campaign activities including traditional party building. Consistent with the Commission’s advice, the ALP created a separate account to pay the expenses associated with their efforts to register a sufficient number of voters.

The ALP Voter Registration Account 1999 reports reveals that it received $12,302 in contributions during the first six months of the year. Of that amount, at least 91% was from nonresident individuals. None of the contributions appeared to have exceeded the $5000 contribution limit from an individual to a political party.1 During this same period, the ALP spent a total of $11,987.60 from the account leaving a balance of $402.80 on June 30, 1999.

The Division of Elections confirmed that in August 1999, the ALP registered a sufficient number of voters to qualify as a state political party for ballot purposes.

You ask what the ALP may do with its voter registration account and with continuing transfers from the Libertarian National Party now that it has qualified as a political party with the Division of Elections. Specifically, you suggest that you might be permitted to "keep the account to maintain ballot status when the number of registered Libertarians fall below the legal threshold"; "keep a segregated fund for the purpose of supporting ballot initiatives"; or "change the purpose of the segregated account to support the campaigns for Libertarian candidates for president and Congress."

1 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.

Analysis

Use or Disbursement of Voter Registration Funds

The money currently in the ALP voter registration account must be used in a manner which is consistent with the account’s original purpose. Now that ALP has qualified with Elections as a political party, it may keep the money in the voter registration account or it may return the money to the contributors. Money kept in the voter registration account may be used only if the ALP must register additional voters to maintain its status as a political party with the Division of Elections.

This interpretation is consistent with the campaign disclosure law and with the Commission’s previous advice. In its advisory opinion to the ALP, the Commission recognized the challenges faced by groups seeking political party status. Analogizing to the early stages of the ballot measure process, the Commission determined that a voter registration account would not be subject to contribution limitations if it was used only to pay the costs associated with registration to achieve party status. The Commission specifically stated that the money could not be used to promote ballot issues or to benefit candidates.

Nothing in the State campaign disclosure law prohibits the ALP from using voter registration funds to support federal ALP candidates. The Commission, however, offers no guidance as to whether federal law permits voter registration funds to be used to influence federal elections. If the ALP determines that it can pursue this option, it should close out its voter registration account and transfer remaining funds to a "federal" account.

Disclosure

If the ALP keeps money in a voter registration account, it must continue to disclose the existence of and any activity in that account. If there is no activity, the ALP need only file the annual Year End Report. However, if the ALP deposits any contributions into or makes any expenditures out of the voter registration account, it must resume filing quarterly disclosure reports for that year.

If the ALP returns the money to contributors or transfers the money to a federal account, it must file a Final Report within 10 days of closing the account.

Conclusion

ALP may use money currently in the ALP voter registration account for voter registration expenses related to the ALP’s efforts to secure political party status only. Now that ALP has qualified as a political party, it may keep the money in the voter registration account or it may return the money to its contributors. Money kept in the voter registration account may be used only if the ALP must register additional voters to maintain its status as a political party with the Division of Elections.

If there is no activity in the account, the ALP may file Year End Reports. However, contributions to or expenditures from the voter registration account will trigger the quarterly reporting requirement for the remainder of the year. Once the ALP disburses the account, it has 10 days to file a Final Report.

Consistent with the Commission’s April 31, 1998 advisory opinion (AO 98-03-CD), the ALP may continue to participate in a unified membership plan with the Libertarian National Committee (LNC) provided that the ALP ensures that all transfers from the LNC satisfy the Alaska campaign disclosure law and properly discloses those transfers.



The Commission approved the advice in this letter by an affirmative vote of 5-0 on November 1, 1999. 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.