APOC approves expedited hearing over allegations of ‘misleading’ ballot measure ads

Next hearing will take place on Wednesday
Published: Oct. 5, 2020 at 11:01 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Public Offices Commission on Monday approved an expedited hearing in one of the battles over Ballot Measure 2, in which one group says the other violated laws by not immediately disclosing its top donors to voters.

The complaint itself stems from a set of advertisements a group called “Defend Alaska Elections, Vote No on 2,” was running about the measure which reportedly states the names of three “top” donors, who at the time of the ads airing were actually not the highest contributors to the campaign.

The opposing group, “Yes on 2 for Better Elections,” claimed that Defend Alaska Elections violated a statute regarding transparency over who donated what and when to its campaign.

“DAE’s three largest contributors disclosure — required by AS 15-13-090 — intentionally and blatantly violates the law,” said Sam Gottstein, representing Yes on 2 for Better Elections. “And critically, DAE’s three largest contributors disclosure has never been correct according to their own disclosure reports.

“The DAE’s purpose is to convince Alaskans to vote a certain way on Ballot Measure 2,” he continued, adding that the three donors listed on Defend Alaska’s ads had contributed about $1,500, while the trio who most recently donated put in about $150,000. “Voting is starting today. DAE is violating the law today. Alaskans who listen to or see the advertisements [...] could immediately vote based on false and misleading information, thereby creating irreparable harm.”

While Better Elections said its opponent broke the law and also had ample time to change advertising so that it appropriately reflected the names of its top donors before the ads ever aired, Defend Alaska Elections maintains that it followed the rules, based on its interpretation of them, utilizing its most recent APOC financial filings at the time. Its representative said the group has not put any incorrect contributors on its advertisements and requested that APOC follow the normal process of investigation instead of expediting it.

“There is no irreparable harm, because Defend Alaska is disclosing all of the contributinos and expenditures in 10-day reports to APOC," said Lee Baxter, representing Defend Alaska Elections. "And you do not have to go back after somebody unseats one of your top three contributors, go back, and produce another top three contributors and other identifications.

“The campaign would have to run back and forth and be in constant communication with the campaign treasurer,” he added. “The top three were accurate as listed on the latest filed report with APOC.”

However, with the general election fewer than 30 days away, Monday’s hearing focused not on any alleged violations themselves but instead on the request for expedited consideration.

APOC could have referred the case for further investigation at a regularly scheduled hearing, but instead voted in favor of an expedited hearing, which will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 7.

If passed, Ballot Measure 2, a multi-part initiative, would replace the political party primary with an open primary system — including ranked-choice voting in the general election — and would require additional campaign finance disclosures.

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