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Citizens United and Super PACs Targeted in Pivotal Alaskan Lawsuit

Protestor carrying U.S. flag with SOLD written on it and corporate logos in place of stars. The Equal Citizens lawsuit in Alaska is challenging dark money and super PACs created by the 2010 Citizens United ruling.
The Equal Citizens lawsuit in Alaska is challenging dark money and super PACs. (Image via Wikimedia, Jonathan McIntosh)

A lawsuit in Alaska is posing a real threat to the era of “dark money” ushered in by Citizens United.

There’s a lawsuit in Alaska working to overturn the infamous 2010 Citizens United ruling that opened the door for super PACs to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns. On Thursday, arguments began before Anchorage Superior Court Judge Andrew Peterson in an appeal of a 3-2 decision by the Alaskan Public Offices Commission.

The Commission decided in March to adopt federal law allowing super PACs, which are known as independent expenditure groups in Alaska, to spend unlimited funds on behalf of conservative and liberal political candidates.

Equal Citizens Case Eyes Citizens United Unlimited Donations

The case is known as the Equal Citizens case, as it was brought on behalf of three Alaskan residents by the non-profit Equal Citizens, an organization founded by Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig. According to NBC Anchorage, Lessig has spent the better part of the last decade fighting the 2010 Citizens United ruling by working to elect lawmakers who would defeat it.

Equal Citizens believes Alaska’s campaign watchdog agency should rein in donations to super PACs as they lead to political corruption.

Alaska has three major candidates running for governor who all have the support of independent expenditure groups. According to NBC Anchorage, most have raised little money, but one candidate Republican Mike Dunleavy is additionally supported by a small group of wealthy donors. Frances Dunleavy, the candidate’s investor brother, has contributed $275,000 and retired Anchorage real estate developer Bob Penney has given $250,000. State limits would have held them to $500 contributions in 2017 and 2018.

Alaska Called a “Good Domain” to Challenge Dark Money and Super PACs

Equal Citizens believes Alaska presents a particularly good domain to challenge the so-called “dark money” ushered in by Citizens United. Alaska had pre-existing campaign finance limits which were approved by a voter initiative and Alaska law allows residents to challenge Alaska Public Offices Commission decisions without “having to prove specific harm”, according to NBC Anchorage.

“We hope we can get the judge to say that the commission does have the power to just enforce the laws that are on the books, which impose some reasonable limits on the amount of money that groups and individuals can give to super PACs or other outside groups,” Equal Citizens’ attorney Jason Harrow said.

The Citizens United ruling of 2010 determined that corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts of money in support or opposition of a political candidate as long as they do it “independently” of the candidate. In adding to that decision, a lower court ruled that if corporations and unions were allowed to spend without limits on political activities, then that must mean you can give unlimited amounts – leading to the creation of “dark money” and super PACS.

Equal Citizens believes super PACS are unconstitutional, but they don’t believe they need to overturn Citizens United to reign in super PACS because it was a lower court’s decision that allowed unlimited donations. Equal Citizens says the lower court’s ruling to allow unlimited donations to PACs was based on too broad of an interpretation of Citizens United.

After Anchorage Superior Court Judge Peterson rules, the case is likely to go to the Alaskan Supreme Court.

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Lauren von Bernuth

Lauren is one of the co-founders of Citizen Truth. She graduated with a degree in Political Economy from Tulane University. She spent the following years backpacking around the world and starting a green business in the health and wellness industry. She found her way back to politics and discovered a passion for journalism dedicated to finding the truth.

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14 Comments

  1. Darlene Gould October 7, 2018

    ITS TIME TO WAKE UP DEMOCRATS. YOU TALK ABOUT THE BIG BLUE WAVE. OUR VOTES HAVE TO COUNT. ELECTION SECURITY IS NEEDED.
    I DO BELIEVE THERE WILL BE ELECTION HACKING JUST LIKE THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. SECURITY IS A MUST. IF THE REPUBLICANS COULD FIX THE KAVANAUGH HEARINGS. THEY WILL DO THE SAME TO OUR ELECTIONS.

    Reply
  2. Joe Zybert October 7, 2018

    Looks like trumps sign

    Reply
  3. Shirley Hawkins October 7, 2018

    Evil

    Reply
  4. Cindy Gibson October 7, 2018

    We need to get rid of them…now.

    Reply
  5. Joelle Cannon October 7, 2018

    Citizens United is what is destroying our government

    Reply
  6. Jose R. Rivera October 7, 2018

    November 6, vote blue and elect Americans, or stay home or vote red, and elect traitors.

    Reply
  7. rosannemiller October 7, 2018

    @realvonB @EqualCitizensUS @lessig Wishing him luck..but doubt anything like a win ,will not be over… https://t.co/Rj5BBiflQz

    Reply
  8. Michaele Brown Smith October 7, 2018

    Excellent!

    Reply
  9. Susan Schulte October 7, 2018

    I think it wastes a lot of money. I really don’t like Super Pacs. The elections should be about the voice of the people and not just the wealthy.

    Reply
  10. Roger Jasso October 8, 2018

    Must get rid of stupid Citizens United!!

    Reply
  11. Diane Nelsonski October 12, 2018

    Every single state should follow suit, also the asswipe Freedom Foundation Choades.

    Reply
  12. Cat Ewing October 12, 2018

    Citizens United is the evil name for the real name Billionaires United to control America FOREVER

    Reply
    1. Joelle Cannon October 12, 2018

      Cat Ewing exactly

  13. Charles Mattox October 12, 2018

    It has too go

    Reply

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