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Alaska soft money case

The 9th Circuit has released its opinion in Jacobus v. State of Alaska. Here is the holding:

Party activists Kenneth P. Jacobus, Wayne Ross, and Scott A. Kohlhaas filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to challenge the constitutionality of the new limitations on contributions to political parties. The district court ruled that Alaska’s $5,000 limit on individual contributions and its ban on corporate and labor union contributions were unconstitutional insofar as they applied to contributions that were not for the purpose of influencing the nomination or election of particular candidates (soft money). The district court also held unconstitutional Alaska’s $5,000 limit on the value of professional services that individuals might volunteer to political parties. Alaska appeals the district court’s grant of summary judgment against it.

We hold that these issues are still justiciable, despite recent changes in Alaska law, and we reverse the rulings of the district court holding Alaska’s limitations on soft money unconstitutional. As the Supreme Court’s recent opinion in FEC v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee (Colorado Republican II), 533 U.S. 431 (2001), suggests, soft money presents a danger of corruption and the appearance of corruption because political parties trade influence and access to candidates for soft money dollars, and candidates trade influence and access for the indirect benefits that they receive from soft money contributions to their party. In addition, candidates’ heavy involvement in soft money fundraising and the creation of “tallying”2 and other methods for tracking soft money contributions secured by particular candidates indicate that soft money is indeed used to circumvent hard money contribution limits. Because the limitations on soft money contributions imposed here reflect Alaska’s concern about these same dangers, we uphold the limits on soft money contributions.

We affirm, however, the district court’s ruling striking down as unconstitutional Alaska’s limit on the value of volunteer professional services that an individual may donate to a political party. By including donations of professional services in the definition of contribution that is subjected to the $5,000 limit, Alaska restricted First Amendment association rights in a way that was different in kind, not just different in degree, from the contribution limits that the Supreme Court found constitutional in Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976) (per curiam). Although this provision does not operate as an absolute bar to an individual’s association with a party through volunteering, we nonetheless hold that Alaska failed to demonstrate that there is an actual danger or appearance of corruption if contributions of volunteer professional services go unrestricted.