Legislature(2015 - 2016)HOUSE FINANCE 519
04/01/2015 01:30 PM House FINANCE
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HOUSE BILL NO. 13 "An Act requiring notice of the postage required to mail an absentee ballot on the envelope provided by the division of elections for returning an absentee ballot; and repealing the authority to include certain material from a political party in the election pamphlet." 2:08:24 PM REPRESENTATIVE BOB LYNN, SPONSOR, discussed that the bill related to the official election pamphlet. He highlighted that the pamphlet carried an air of authenticity because it was published by the government of the State of Alaska; therefore, voters tended to give far more credence to the words in the election pamphlet than they did to campaign mailers. He asserted that because candidates could afford to advertise in the pamphlet, it was a campaign equalizer. He stated that the pamphlet was basically a "vote for me" publication for candidates, judges, and initiatives. He furthered that candidates could write almost anything they chose "however ridiculous it may be" without editing by the state, which he believed was fine. He continued that unfortunately there was a section in the pamphlet where any registered political party could make campaign statements, which could mean escalated attacks on candidates. He stressed that the pamphlet was supposed to be a neutral governmental publication about who and what the voters were voting on. He communicated that the bill would eliminate political party advertisements in the official election pamphlet. He urged members to pass the bill. Representative Gattis wondered about the history. She had noticed the advertisements in the past election, but not prior to that. Representative Lynn asked for clarification. Representative Gattis asked how it had come to be that the state allowed political parties to advertise. She wondered if advertisement in the pamphlet was open to everyone. Representative Lynn deferred the question to the department. GAIL FENUMIAI, DIRECTOR, DIVISION OF ELECTIONS, OFFICE OF THE LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR (via teleconference), answered that current state law only allowed for political parties to purchase space in the pamphlet (outside of any information that could be voluntarily provided by candidates running for office). Representative Gattis asked about the history behind the law. Ms. Fenumiai replied that the advertisements had been allowed for at least the past twenty years. Representative Gara expounded that the ability for political parties to advertise in the pamphlet had been around for a long-time. He detailed that historically parties had used two pages in the pamphlet to highlight their platform; however, in the past one of the parties had determined that personal advertisements were allowed. He believed the advertisements would only escalate in the future. He asked for verification that historically parties could use the space to highlight their platforms. Ms. Fenumiai asked Representative Gara to repeat the question. Representative Gara asked for confirmation that historically parties had used two pages in the pamphlet to highlight their platform. Ms. Fenumiai replied in the affirmative. Representative Gara noted that it had only been in the past year that one of the political parties had figured out that the advertisement against another party was legal. He reasoned that the advertisements could target any state or federal candidate. He and Representative Lynn were both opposed to the state paying for negative ads. Co-Chair Thompson asked about how much money was brought in through advertising. He observed that the fiscal note was zero. Ms. Fenumiai responded that political parties were allowed to pay for up to two pages at $600 per page. She believed there were a total of four political party pages in the 2014 pamphlet, which brought in about $2,400. Co-Chair Thompson observed that there was a fiscal impact, but it was not large. 2:15:11 PM Co-Chair Neuman asked whether there had been complaints about advertisements prior to the past year. Ms. Fenumiai replied that the past election was the first year she could recall receiving complaints. Co-Chair Neuman asked about sideboards in the law that addressed what could be included in the advertisements and who could advertise. Ms. Fenumiai responded that there were no limitations; the division accepted what was provided by candidates and parties. She added that a disclaimer was provided at the bottom of the pages indicating which entity paid for the ad. Co-Chair Neuman surmised that any political party within the State of Alaska that was recognized by the Division of Elections was allowed to place an advertisement. Ms. Fenumiai answered in the affirmative; any recognized political party could place an ad in the pamphlet. Co-Chair Neuman asked if the division had looked at adopting sideboards that addressed what could or could not be included in an ad to prevent a negative impact. Ms. Fenumiai replied that the division had not considered the issue. Co-Chair Neuman asserted that the division had probably thought about the idea, but did not want to discuss it. Co-Chair Thompson noted that Representatives Pruitt and Wilson had joined the meeting. Representative Kawasaki asked if any political party could advertise in the pamphlet even if they did not have a candidate in the race. Ms. Fenumiai responded that any recognized party could advertise even if they did not have a candidate. Representative Kawasaki thought he had read that candidates were not allowed to make statements about another candidate. He thought the language had to be positive. Ms. Fenumiai replied that there were no provisions specifying what the subject matter of a candidate's statement could be. There were limits to the number of words a candidate's biography and statement could contain. Representative Kawasaki thought he recalled the Division of Election's specifying that a candidate's statement could not be about another person. 2:19:32 PM Vice-Chair Saddler asked for verification that there were no standards as to what candidates could put in the pamphlet. Ms. Fenumiai confirmed that there were no standards in place. Vice-Chair Saddler asked if there could be any limits on political speech under the First Amendment [to the U.S. Constitution]. Ms. Fenumiai deferred the question. Representative Lynn replied that according to Legislative Legal Services there were no First Amendment problems with the bill. Vice-Chair Saddler countered that there were no First Amendment problems with removing advertisements; however, he believed limiting the content of advertisements would violate the First Amendment. JOANNA LEWIS, STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE BOB LYNN, replied that she had learned from Legislative Legal Services that it was legal to limit who was allowed to put information into the pamphlet, but the limit had to be applied equally across the board (i.e. the limit could not be applied to one party but not another). Representative Lynn expounded that it had always been his understanding that it was not legal for a candidate to mention another candidate's name in their statement published in the pamphlet. Vice-Chair Saddler asked how many parties were currently eligible to advertise in the pamphlet. He wondered if historically all eligible parties had tended to take advantage of the advertising opportunity. Ms. Fenumiai replied that all parties had the opportunity to provide information in the pamphlet; there were currently four parties recognized in Alaska. Vice-Chair Saddler asked Ms. Fenumiai to identify the four parties. Ms. Fenumiai replied that the recognized parties were the Alaskan Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, and Independence parties. She relayed that the Alaskan Democratic, Libertarian, and Republican parties had purchased pages in the 2014 general election pamphlet. Vice-Chair Saddler asked whether all parties tended to place ads in the pamphlet. Ms. Fenumiai answered that the two major parties had historically been the ones to provide ads to pamphlets. 2:23:50 PM Representative Guttenberg asked how a political party became recognized and eligible to purchase a page in the pamphlet. Ms. Fenumiai answered that a party was required to submit a form and run a candidate for governor who had received at least 3 percent of the total vote in the preceding general election (if there was not a governor race, the U.S. senator or representative races were used). By the time the pamphlet was published the political parties were already set for the year. Representative Guttenberg discussed that the next election cycle was presidential. He noted that many political parties would have presidential candidates on the ballot. He wondered if a political party from another state (with a presidential candidate) would be prevented from having a page in the election book. Ms. Fenumiai did not believe it would qualify. She detailed that per Alaska statute a political party was defined as an organized group of voters that represents a political program and that ran a candidate (for governor, U.S. Senate, or Congress). Representative Guttenberg addressed the term "sideboards" that he equated to political free speech. He wondered if the Division of Elections was capable of beating a challenge that could arise if it put any sideboards on something [e.g. the election pamphlet]. Ms. Fenumiai deferred the question to the Department of Law. Representative Guttenberg wondered if a challenge had ever arisen in response to something published in the election pamphlet in the past. Ms. Fenumiai did not recall a challenge in the past. Co-Chair Neuman asked for an explanation of the changes between the original legislation and the version passed by the House State Affairs Committee. 2:27:34 PM AT EASE 2:27:55 PM RECONVENED Representative Lynn answered that a section related to postage had been deleted from the original bill version. He explained that originally the bill had specified that the Division of Elections would take care of absentee ballots that were mailed without adequate postage. The provision had been removed, which was reflected in the zero fiscal note. The remaining issue addressed by the legislation pertained to what political parties could include in the pamphlet. Co-Chair Neuman wondered whether the sponsor asked the political parties that normally advertised in the pamphlet if they had recommendations to work out accommodations. Representative Lynn replied in the negative. He believed that most political parties would like to gain an advantage over their opponents. The legislation addressed his belief that it was inappropriate for candidates or political parties to publish "hit" pieces in the election pamphlet. Co-Chair Neuman observed that the backup materials only included the political pamphlet from the preceding year. Representative Lynn answered that he only had the pamphlet from the prior election. Vice-Chair Saddler asked about the basic economics of producing the election pamphlet. He wondered how much of the cost of producing advertisement and candidate pages was covered by a party or candidate and how much was paid for by the division. Ms. Fenumiai replied that it cost the division $256,000 to produce the election pamphlet. The party pages had brought in approximately $2,400 [in 2014]. She did not know the amount of revenue generated by the candidate pages off hand. She would follow up with the information. Vice-Chair Saddler surmised that it was clear that the Division of Elections was paying for a substantial amount of the cost associated with the pamphlet. Representative Pruitt wondered why the goal was to eliminate party advertising altogether. He wondered about an option of being allowed to put information in that was not negative. Representative Lynn answered that what may be viewed as negative to one person may not be negative to another. He reasoned that candidates, initiatives, and judges were all voted for on the ballot; however, political parties were not. 2:32:13 PM Representative Pruitt stated that if negativity was in the eye of the beholder he had a problem with all of the ballot initiatives and did not believe they should be in the pamphlet because there were negatives on both sides. He believed the issue could be micromanaged to the extent that the pamphlet had to be done away with altogether. He advised addressing negativity if that was the concern. He remarked that some of the small parties, such as the Congress Party, may not have an advertising platform due to their size. He did not understand why parties should be penalized. He could identify other items in the pamphlet that he believed were negative. Representative Lynn replied that residents voted for candidates, initiatives, and judges, but not for political party. He agreed that negativity was in the eye of the beholder, but he wondered why the advertisements were included in the pamphlet to begin with. Representative Pruitt countered that there were still people who voted by political party. He believed that to discount that reality would not address reality. He reasoned that if the concern was the negativity, the negativity should be addressed. He believed the bill would penalize all of the political parties by limiting their exposure. Representative Lynn answered that people voting strictly along party lines could identify which party candidates represented. 2:35:29 PM Representative Wilson asked why the Division of Elections was paying anything for the ads. She thought the division should just charge more. She thought paying $256,000 for the pamphlet was high. She stated that "if we don't like what they do, at least get more money out of them." She asked the division to determine how much it would have to charge parties and candidates so that the state was not subsidizing elections. Representative Edgmon wondered if there was anywhere else within the election process that was essentially based on neutrality. He wondered if the pamphlet was the only part of the election process where a party could pay to publish a partisan statement. Co-Chair Thompson noted that Ms. Fenumiai could follow up later. He relayed that the committee would hear the bill again in the future; members would have a chance to ask additional questions. Representative Lynn summarized that the bill was not about money. He explained that it did not matter to him whether the statements by political parties were free or cost $1 million per page; it was not the point of the legislation. He stressed that political party advertisements did not belong in the election pamphlet. He believed the election pamphlet was a place for candidate and initiative statements; it should be kept as pure as possible. HB 13 was HEARD and HELD in committee for further consideration.