Two citizen advocacy groups and three Alaskans have sued federally to stop the nation’s most anti-privacy election laws. Provisions passed by a narrow margin in Ballot Measure 2 in November 2020 violate the freedom of speech and privacy rights of individuals who make certain political contributions and discourage participation in Alaska’s political process, plaintiffs say. The on-air donor disclaimer requirement, the disclosure of donor layers, and the requirement that donors double-declare contributions all violate First Amendment protections of political speech and association.
The lawsuit was filed by Anchorage resident Doug Smith, two other Alaska-based individual donors, and two citizen advocacy organizations, the Alaska Free Market Coalition and Families for the Last Frontier. With the help of attorneys from the national nonprofit law firm, the Liberty Justice Center, they are suing officials from the State of Alaska Public Offices Commission.
The Liberty Justice Center fights for basic American constitutional rights and has previously challenged donor disclosure requirements in Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and Rhode Island.
“Americans have the right to support causes they believe in without overly intrusive and burdensome demands from the government,” said Daniel Suhr, general counsel at the Liberty Justice Center. “Alaska’s new reporting requirements present Americans with an unconstitutional choice: sacrifice privacy to support causes and candidates or abstain from critical debates facing Alaska. We will not sit idly by as Alaskans’ free speech rights are stifled by bureaucrats enforcing this unconstitutional law.
The law requires donors to redundantly report donations or face thousands of dollars in fines. It requires speakers to fill their announcements with extended disclaimers for the duration of an announcement’s runtime, converting announcements of communications about issues or candidates into an advertisement of a speaker’s contributors.
This further requires disclosure of not only the donors, but also the donors of the donors – who have given money to someone who in turn has given money to a speaker – requiring full genealogies of the contributions that away from any state interest in protecting the integrity of elections or curbing corruption.
As Alaska prepares for the upcoming election, onerous new state donor regulations and requirements will potentially discourage some donors from supporting causes and candidates important to them.
“These overly intrusive requirements will prevent speech in Alaska,” said Doug Smith, Alaskan and lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We should welcome and encourage debate on important issues in Alaska, rather than imposing laws and requirements that deter people from supporting causes they believe in and open them up to political intimidation.”
The lawsuit, filed Thursday, is the first challenge to Ballot Measure 2 filed in federal court. A separate challenge was filed on state constitutional grounds. The lawsuit, Smith v. Helzer, was filed April 7, 2022 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska. The files are available here: https://libertyjusticecenter.org/media/alaska-ballot-measure-2.