According to campaign disclosure reports filed earlier this month, Gov. Bill Walker’s campaign had $154,770.70 cash on-hand between the consolidated campaign and the individual campaigns of Walker and Byron Mallott.
But now that Walker has suspended his campaign and endorsed Democrat Mark Begich for election what can happen to that money? Can he go all-out in support of Begich? Can he divvy up his money to other candidates? Can he pocket the cash?
Turns out, according to state law, none of the above.
Alaska state law is pretty strict when it comes to how a candidate can use his or her money. Candidates can’t use it for the benefit of anyone else, can’t pocket the money and can’t give it to another candidate or cause. The relevant statute to examine is AS 15.13.112.
The Alaska Public Offices Commission has an advisory opinion on the matter (though as we’ve recently found out these aren’t always rock solid). In 2008, Rep. Les Gara asked about the legality of promoting another candidate at his own fundraiser by encouraging supporters to donate to the other candidate. The advisory opinion found that using a campaign event to promote another candidate in pretty much constitute a contribution to another candidate and would violate the law.
The other things that candidates are specifically banned from doing with campaign contributions?
- You can’t “give a personal benefit to the candidate or another person.”
- You can’t pocket the money and count it as personal income.
- You can’t loan it to another person.
- You can’t knowingly use it to pay above fair market value for services or goods purchased for the campaign.
- Pay criminal fines or civil penalties other than ones related to the campaign.
- Used to make contributions to another person or group. (This is where Walker would be barred from running ads to benefit Begich).
The only exception that could possibly be used to put Walker’s campaign money to use to benefit Begich is if they were to hold a joint campaign event and split the bill.
Even then, it could be politically difficult for Walker to put his money to use. His 5,000-plus contributors contributed to the Walker campaign, not Begich’s campaign, after all and you can’t be sure they’ll follow his lead and switch their support to Begich.
State law does have an answer when it comes to disbursing campaign funds after an election. Flip your Alaska statute books to AS 15.13.116 for the relevant law. There, a candidate can do the following:
- Pay the bills for “winding up the affairs of the campaign, including a victory or thank you party, thank you advertisements and thank you gifts to campaign employees and volunteers.”
- Make donations, “without condition,” to a political party, the state’s general fund, an Alaska municipal government or the federal government.
- Make donations, “without condition,” to a 501(c)(3) charitable organization as long as it is not controlled by the candidate or a member of the candidate’s immediate family.
- Repay loans incurred by the campaign.
- Transfer the money to a future campaign account for a future race.
- Transfer the money to a public expense account to cover the expenses associated with serving in the Alaska Legislature or serving in a municipal government.
- Repay contributors a portion of their contribution equal to the total remaining campaign funds left. (So if 10 percent of the total campaign funds are remaining, the campaign would return 10 percent of each contribution).
The final option of repaying contributors sounds optimal, but it also presents a massive logistical headache.
We reached out to the campaign to see what they might be considering and were told that they’re in the process of reviewing this matter, too, and will have a summary to share with supporters by the end of the week.
The Walker campaign still has some reserved ad time on the books, too, so that could be put to use for “thank you advertisements,” just don’t expect any mention of Begich.