APOC votes to expedite ruling in most recent complaint

The top headlines and stories around Alaska for Oct. 20, 2022
Published: Oct. 20, 2022 at 6:48 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Public Offices Commission voted 3-2 in favor of expediting a ruling on the most recent complaint filed by the Alaska Public Interest Research Group and the 907 Initiative, which alleges that the Republican Governor’s Association violated Alaska’s campaign finance laws.

After ruling against expediting a hearing last week that alleged unlawful coordination between campaign staff and independent expenditure groups, APOC ruled in favor of expediting the complaint on Thursday. The next hearing will take place at 9 a.m. on Oct. 21.

Representing the complainants was attorney Scott Kendall, who previously served as chief of staff to former Gov. Bill Walker. Kendall argued that third-quarter filings from the RGA to the Internal Revenue Service showed that A Stronger Alaska — an independent expenditure group formed to support the reelection of Gov. Mike Dunleavy — was not a substantially separate organization from the RGA, meaning that the RGA had violated Alaska’s campaign finance laws by failing to register as an independent expenditure group themselves.

The RGA did not report donating this money. That’s beyond dispute, and they didn’t report it because it didn’t happen. They moved it within a sub-account within their own bank account,” Kendall said. “What this new evidence shows is essentially they’ve been concocting a scheme to obscure what’s really going on in this election and they’ve been doing it for 20 months, presumably on the assumption that no one would ever check.”

Kendall argued that the disclaimers on mailers sent out by A Stronger Alaska were false, and required to list the three top donors to the RGA. Kendall further stated that all of the reports filed by A Stronger Alaska had falsified information.

“If the Republican Governor’s Association paid for this directly, which they did, which we know because their tax filings say they did — and that’s in the exhibits of course — then it should say at a minimum, paid for by Republican Governor’s Association, top three donors of the Republican Governor’s Association are x y and z,” Kendall said. “We don’t know who x y and z are. This is a violation right here.”

APOC Chair Anne Helzer said at the beginning of Thursday’s hearing that the commission considers three questions when deciding on alleged campaign finance violations. APOC considers if there is reasonable cause to believe that a violation occurred, would the alleged violation materially affect an election if not restrained, and could the alleged violation cause irreparable harm if not immediately restrained.

Attorney Stacey Stone represented the RGA and attorney Richard Moses represented ASA. Stone said that conversations related to the previous complaint filed by AKPIRG and 907 Initiative were ongoing.

“This matter is based on the errant premise that there was no transfer of the contribution of the $3 million from RGA to ASA,” Stone said. “It’s an internal bank transfer — meaning they have bank accounts at the same bank — not meaning that there’s some nefarious internal thing going on with RGA and ASA.”

Stone noted that the donation from the RGA to ASA took place prior to Alaska’s updated campaign finance laws going into effect, noting that a donation could not violate a law that did not yet exist.

“There is no reasonable cause that a violation has occurred because a violation has not occurred,” Moses said. “You have the evidence in front of you, the Republican Governor’s Association transferred $3 million to A Stronger Alaska. They are in separate political activities accounts. They are in separate bank accounts.”

APOC Commissioner Dan Lasota questioned Moses about an argument Kendall had made, noting that the Employer Identification Numbers were the same for both groups.

“With two groups that share the same EIN number, why does that not imply that there’s really only one group,” LaSota asked. “I don’t understand how two groups can share the same EIN number.”

Moses said that although the numbers for the IRS were identical, they were separate for APOC purposes. After Stone and Moses provided their arguments, Kendall spoke to close the meeting, disagreeing with Moses’ assertion.

“If you share an EIN you are that entity,” Kendall said. “For IRS purposes, for all purposes I understand, you are that entity and that entity is you.”

After a lengthy recess into executive session, the commission returned to say that they had voted to expedite their ruling on the matter.

“Pursuant to AS 15.13.380 (c) the commission will grant expedited consideration by a vote of 3-2,” Helzer said. “It is this commission’s expectation that the Republican Governor’s Association and A Stronger Alaska will produce witness testimony to explain separation between the two entities A Stronger Alaska and the Republican Governor’s Association to the satisfaction of this commission. So it is recommended that the Chief Financial Officer for the Republican Governor’s Association and the Chief Executive Officer will be available to Mr. Kendall for questions.”

Helzer did not state how specific commissioners cast their votes.