Last week, media outlets around the state published an editorial by Gov. Bill Walker explaining why he did what he did to the permanent fund dividend in 2016. It was a pretty run-of-the-mill editorial that’ll be one of hundreds published in Alaska newspapers in this election cycle, but its inclusion of a link to his campaign’s video ad sparked right-wing ire.
The Republican party’s mouthpiece breathlessly attacked Walker, accusing him of breaking campaign finance laws or ethics laws (“THE ONLY QUESTION IS, WHICH ONE DID HE BREAK?” the site hyperventilates) and the independent expenditure group that has a knack of publishing campaign ads that are nearly identical to the ones published by Republican front-runner Mike Dunleavy’s campaign reposted the story.
It expectedly set of a Friday-afternoon firestorm among political and media circles. And in what appeared to be kowtowing by the media, many of the sites quickly edited or took down the stories altogether.
But is the right-wing blog the ultimate authority on the issue?
Since we’re apparently the only one that can use Google to look up the appropriate laws on the matter (AS 39.52.120), state law specifically prohibits state employees from using or authorizing “the use of state funds, facilities, equipment, services, or another government asset or resource for partisan political purposes.”
According to the Department of Law’s site: Using a state copier after work hours to make copies of political campaign advertising? Sad face. Using state resources to produce, edit and shoot an ad that explicitly says it was paid for by the Walker campaign? Probably a sad face, too.
The law also, incidentally, contains pretty significant carve-outs for the governor and lieutenant governor to allow them to use the governor’s mansion “for meetings to discuss political strategy” and it also allows them to campaign without taking leave (which is required of any state employee that “engages in political campaign activities other than minor, inconsequential, and unavoidable campaign activities”).
But none of that matters.
That’s because the editorial and the campaign video didn’t come from the state’s office.
No, it came from campaign manager John-Henry Heckendorn, who quit his job in the governor’s office to run the campaign (a fact we’ve confirmed with multiple sources on either end of the publication of the editorial). If there’s any nefarious behind-the-scenes campaigning, the conservative blog offered no evidence.
Therefore there’s no use state resources and no ethics violation.
The Anchorage Daily News took down both the editorial and the video on Friday, but not because anyone was found to be breaking the law. ADN Opinion Editor Tom Hewitt noted the backlash to the site posting the video and explained that the decision to bring it down was in order to set up broader policy on whether or not to allow political candidates to refer to campaign materials in their editorials.
“I published the piece and included the link without considering a broader policy on whether we want to include links to campaign literature in op-eds. People who don’t like Gov. Walker and support other candidates became very upset and lobbed many unfounded accusations,” he wrote. “We took the piece down because we realized we need a blanket policy on this stuff or things are only going to get messier between now and election day. It was my screw-up; the op-ed piece wasn’t in violation of any rule or law I’m aware of. We just need a uniform set of rules.”
Time to quiet a little political gamesmanship as best I can: @AkGovBillWalker‘s campaign submitted an op-ed to the ADN about why he vetoed part of the PFD in 2016. It included a link to a video produced by his campaign addressing that veto.
— Tom Hewitt (@tomhewittnews) July 14, 2018
While the ADN version of the editorial has yet to be reposted, the editorial has since been published in the Juneau Empire and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (a lot of newspapers save their bigger editorials for the weekend) with either a direct link or an embed to the video in question (which as of this writing has fewer than 500 views).
The ADN has since published an update guideline on letters to the editor, noting that for political candidates “In general, we do not publish links to campaign literature in op-ed columns or letters to the editor.”
Why it matters
It’s not the first time Must Read Alaska has gotten ahead of itself in attacking Walker.
Last year, the site was head over heels when it declared that Walker cut the “Patriot” out of “Patriot Day.” The only thing was that Walker’s declaration of “September 11 Commemoration Day” was the exact same declaration that Republican Govs. Sean Parnell and Sarah Palin had made in the past. It had never been officially called “Patriot Day” in Alaska.
Not only was the claim that Walker cut out “Patriots” from the day wrong, it was easily debunked.
(At least Anchorage Sen. Kevin Meyer, who’s now running for lieutenant governor, has put it to rest by passing a bill to officially recognize Sept. 11 as “Patriot Day.”)