Two groups: Your Future Alaska (YFA) and Alaskans FIrst (AF), formed to support then candidate Bill Walker and a herd of Democrat candidates in 2014 have been formally charged with three violations of campaign disclosure laws by Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) staff. Those groups had identical boards which included Gov. Walker’s Deputy Chief of Staff Marcia Davis and two other women, April Ferguson and Vicki Otte.
The three violations are:
- Both groups are charged with a series of violating donation and expenditure disclosure deadlines. Most of their disclosures didn’t happen until well after election day.
- YFA was only formed to be an illegal front-group for donations to pass through on their way to YF for the purpose of shielding donors’ identities from the public.
- Both groups started spending money several days before their paperwork was filed with APOC.
Here are 5 takeaways:
- These Actions Were Pretty Bad
The second violation the groups are charged with is by far the worst. The other two can be written off as just paperwork violations (Still not good). The allegation that organizers created a blatantly obvious front-group with no purpose but to funnel anonymous money to help a specific set of candidates gets at the very heart of why we have campaign disclosure laws.
The Governor’s Communications Director Grace Jang reportedly said “This is folks just trying to catch up with the effects of Citizens United and find out where lines are.” That statement is completely wrong. At the very least the organizers of these groups pro-actively sought out a way to circumvent both the letter and intent of the law. Voters should get to know where money influencing elections is coming from. Regardless of the outcome of the case, that intent should be troubling to all Alaskans.
As the largest beneficiary of the groups’ actions, and the now employer of one of the key organizers, Ms. Davis, the Governor needs to show he understands how troubling it is as well.
- The Use Of Front Groups In Alaska Politics Is Nothing New.
The actions by these two groups are troubling, but let’s not pretend they are completely unique. State and federal legislators have carved out lots of legal ways to obscure or outright hide where their campaign money is coming from.
For instance, both the majority and minority in the state house and state senate raise and maintain campaign funds in Republican and Democratic Party accounts. Those funds are doled out by their respective caucus leaders to candidates they support. The kicker is these donations come in largely from lobbyists who are barred from donating to candidates unless they live in the candidate’s district. Both parties’ legislative campaign funds act as de-facto pass-through entities that allow lobbyists to circumvent that rule and curry favor not only with the candidates who receive the money, but also the legislative leaders who solicited the donations. While donations to these groups are publicly disclosed, the average citizen looking at the donation records would have little or no way of knowing which caucus leader’s or which lobbyists’ influence was behind a given donation.
There are plenty of other examples with variations on this theme:
- Labor unions say they don’t use member dues money for political activities, but hire, from dues money, professionals with political, lobbying, and campaign job responsibilities. This amounts to a pass-through donation from dues paying members to the causes aided by those staff.
- Americans for Prosperity-Alaska plays in support or opposition to specific candidates while openly declining to tell where their money comes from.
- Prosperity Alaska is almost entirely a pass-through of Republican Party money it then uses to support Republican candidates, but packages itself and its business report card as a nonpartisan business effort.
And the list could go on and on…
All the groups mentioned here are legally organized, so the phrase “don’t hate player hate the game” comes to mind.
There is one key distinction between the YFA and AF groups and any listed here. None of these groups have gone as far as trying to allow individuals to direct donations to aid specific candidates completely anonymously. That is an ambitious and troubling twist.
- No One Cares About The Timing Violations
Two of the three violations YFA and AF are being charged with are failing to comply with timelines of some sort. No one, particularly not the public, cares about those. Don’t lie, you don’t, do you? The violations appear to be clear and the groups should be held accountable to the rules, but these kinds of violations happen by groups and candidates on both sides of the aisle all the time and no one ever cares. Odds are they won’t this time either.
- The Alaska GOP Is Wrong
The Alaska Republican Party put out a statement attributed to Party Chairman Peter Goldberg that says “This calls into question Gov. Walker’s entire election.” The fact is the amount of money these groups raised and spent to support the Governor was immaterial to the outcome of that race.
According to APOC Gov. Walker’s campaign itself raised $1.2 million and former Governor Sean Parnell raised almost $1.1 Million. That doesn’t include party or independent expenditures. The $50,000 given by this group to help Gov. Walker wouldn’t have changed the Alaska National Guard scandal or the deluge of cash dropped on the U.S. Senate race that buoyed both down ticket gubernatorial campaigns. In short, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome. So, no this doesn’t call the election into question.
- The Alaska GOP Is Right
The other part the Alaska GOP statement was a call for Marcia Davis to resign. I’ll go a step farther, if APOC finds that the groups did in fact illegally create a front group to circumvent election disclosure laws, the Governor needs to fire Marcia Davis. She should not be allowed to resign.
In his campaign the Governor made an issue out of needing transparency in state government. Ms. Davis’s actions show she has no commitment to transparency and in fact actively works against it. Having her serve as Deputy Chief of Staff to Gov. Walker would destroy his credibility on that subject.
The Governor has a reputation for loyalty, and that is an admirable trait, but someone needs to tell him the public trust is more important than personal loyalty.
After seeing the staff disorganization and internal communication issues laid bare by his administration’s special session testimony, as citizens we need to know the inmates aren’t running the asylum . We need to see the Governor is both capable and willing to hold staff accountable when they go out of bounds.
Allowing Ms. Davis to continue in the Governor’s office will be a huge blow to Gov. Walker’s greatest strengths, the perception that regardless of how crazy it sounds, he really believes what he says and that he is a man of action and not words.
Words are not good enough on this one, we need to see action that proves he believes in the transparency he talks about and is strong enough to defend it.