The group opposing the election reform initiative Ballot Measure 2 argued it had one weird trick to skirt Alaska’s election laws and hide from voters its big-time cash contributions from Republican groups.
The Alaska Public Offices Commission disagreed in an emergency order published today, calling the group’s paid-for-by disclosure attached to radio ads “wildly” inaccurate. The order requires the group to update the ads’ disclosures to reflect its true financial backers within three days. It does not, at this time, assess any fines on the campaign.
The order centers on the group’s efforts to cash in on the name recognition of John Sturgeon, former Alaska U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell as the group’s top three financial backers who were the top contributors when a slate of ads were produced. By the time the ads began running on the radio, the trio’s contributions were dwarfed by big-time cash infusions from the Alaska Republican Party, the Republican Senate Leadership Committee and Americans for Prosperity.
Defend Alaska Elections and campaign manager Brett Huber defended the misleading disclosures because they argued all that mattered was that the ads, some of which have still yet to begin airing, were produced and sent to ad buyers before those big-time contributions were made.
Yes on 2 for Better Elections, the group backing the measure and behind the complaint that resulted in today’s order, argued that the critical deadline is the time the radios ads began playing on the airwaves. They argued that Huber had intentionally concocted the scheme to sidestep Alaska election laws and warned that if allowed to stand it would threaten elections well into the future.
APOC commissioners agreed with Yes on 2 for Better Elections in a 4-1 vote.
Today’s ruling finds that the disclosures must be accurate when the material is first disseminated to the public, a shift from even what an APOC campaign disclosure coordinator Tom Lucas said on Wednesday. The order concedes that the disclosures may eventually become inaccurate but said it’s critical to provide clear information to voters.
“This interpretation also provides more accurate information to voters than DAE’s or Mr. Lucas’s suggestion. A top three disclosure may become inaccurate over time if the same ads continue to run for a long time, but the commission’s interpretation at least prevents campaigns from spreading inaccurate information to voters by using a top three disclosure that is already inaccurate—perhaps wildly, as was the case here—by the time the voters first hear the radio ads,” the order says.
The order doesn’t delve into a secondary complaint that the original disclosure that listed Sturgeon, Parnell and Begich was ever accurate due to a contribution of a Facebook page that the group initially listed as more valuable than the $250 given each by Parnell and Begich.
Yes on 2 for Better Elections campaign manager Shea Siegert celebrated the ruling in a statement released after the ruling and said the whole incident proves the need for the Ballot Measure 2.
“This scheme to deceive voters disgusts me, as It should disgust all Alaskans. This group’s willingness to hide the sources of Dark Money they’re using to fight Ballot Measure 2’s disclosure requirements just proves how badly we need to pass this measure,” he said. “Now, more than ever–Alaskans have a fundamental right to know who Is paying to Influence their vote.”
Ballot Measure 2 seeks to implement a trio of election reforms to Alaska that would include measures intended to shine a light on dark money influencing candidate elections, open primaries and ranked choice voting in the general election.
The election is Nov. 3.