Complaint accuses group opposing election reform initiative of skirting election law

A screenshot from an ad by Protect My Ballot advocating against Ranked Choice Voting. A complaint argues it's advocating a vote against Ballot Measure 2 and the group should register with APOC.

Protect My Ballot, a group opposing an initiative to implement ranked choice voting in Alaska, has been operating without properly registering to campaign in Alaska, a new complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission alleges.

The complaint was filed on Wednesday by Robert Butera, an Anchorage resident who’s donated to the group backing the Alaska’s Better Elections initiative. The complaint, a copy of which was provided to The Midnight Sun, charges Brett Huber, the Alaska Policy Forum and Alaska Policy Forum executive director Bethany Marcum have been actively violating campaign finance law for months.

Huber, who ran Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s campaign in 2018, left the administration earlier this month to run the campaign against Ballot Measure 2, according to a report by the Anchorage Daily News. Republican party officials, some high-level Democrats and the conservative Alaska Policy Forum have opposed the measure that would implement ranked-choice voting, open primaries and greater disclosure requirements on “dark money.” In a late-July press release, Alaska Policy Forum said it was leading a coalition of think tanks to launch Protect My Ballot.

Alaska campaign finance law requires groups that are actively working to support or oppose ballot initiatives (or independent expenditures supporting or opposing candidates) to register with the state, disclosing their funding and expenditures. Some groups skirt this rule by not explicitly advocating a particular vote on an issue, but the complaint argues that the group has done precisely that.

“Despite the extensive campaign activities described above including, but not limited to video production, web registration and design, staff time for writing, press releases promoting the ‘launch’ of this ‘new campaign,’ salary or wages for Huber, and links all promoting a ‘no’ vote on Ballot Measure 2, none of the respondents have registered as a group with APOC, nor have they reported any of the donations received or expenditures made in opposition to Ballot Measure 2,” argues the complaint, which argues the activity has been going on since November 2019.

As of posting, the Alaska Public Offices Commission still has no group registration for Protect My Ballot. The state agency does, however, show a progressive-backed group, called Protect Our Elections No on 2, has properly registered to campaign against the measure.

State law says any group propagating “express communication” about a measure must register with APOC. Express communication is defined as “a communication that, when read as a whole and with limited reference to outside events, is susceptible of no other reasonable interpretation but as an exhortation to vote for or against a specific candidate.”

A search through Facebook’s Ad Library shows a group called Protect My Ballot has run two digital ads, which began running on Aug. 16 and Aug. 17, targeting users in Alaska, Maine and Massachusetts with a total spend of less than $100.

The ad post’s text encourages its audience to “Learn about a confusing new voting scheme” and the video includes an animation saying, “Say no to ranked choice voting.”

Other communications have largely casted the campaign as an education effort to “detail the harmful consequences of an electoral scheme known as Ranked Choice Voting.” In the July news release, Marcum provides the following statement:

“As Alaskans take to the polls in November, history should provide a warning for what Ranked Choice Voting would lead to. Not only can Ranked Choice Voting cause votes to be discarded, research shows it also decreases voter turnout. We need to encourage Americans of all background s to visit the polls, not give them another reason to avoid casting a ballot.”

The complaint also alleges that the Alaska Policy Forum has been lobbying without properly reporting those activities to APOC.

Robert Dillon, who’s with Alaskans for Better Elections, told The Midnight Sun that the issue proves the need for Ballot Measure 2’s transparency measures.

“The kind of dark money shenanigans that Marcum, Huber, and a front group like the Alaska Policy Forum are involved in are classic examples of the dangers of dark money in Alaska’s politics,” he said via email. “Elections are for voters, not party bosses or their special interest friends. Voters should know who is trying to influence their choices and where their true loyalties lie. Is it here in Alaska or with their hidden donors? These are the people who have benefited from keeping a tight hold on power for years. They don’t want voters to have power – they want to keep it for themselves. The problem is that they aren’t address the ongoing crises the state is facing.”

The complaint doesn’t request an expedited hearing, but asks for it to be resolved ahead of the Nov. 3 general election, where the measure will appear.

The complaint

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