Rep. Pruitt, who’s suing to overturn loss, racked up campaign violations during ’16, ’18 races, regulators say

Rep. Lance Pruitt takes the head of a mock special session hosted in Wasilla in support of Gov. Mike Dunleavy in July 2019. (Photo by Matt Buxton/TMS)

Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt, who is currently suing to overturn his 11-vote election loss to Democratic Rep.-elect Liz Snyder, committed several campaign finance violations during the 2016 and 2018 races, according to state regulators’ report to the Alaska Political Commission today.

The report finds Pruitt filed several incomplete financial reports during the 2016 and 2018 campaigns and during the 2016 campaign reimbursed himself for expenses beyond the allowable deadline and failed to return an over-limit campaign contribution as well as a contribution from a business.

[PFD: APOC Staff report Paula DeLaiarro v. Lance Pruitt]

A maximum combined civil penalty for the violations would be $1,022,250, which the report notes is more than six times the combined total of what Pruitt raised and spent during those campaigns.

That’s because Alaska’s campaign violation system determines many of its financial penalties on a per-day basis from when the violation occurred to when it’s resolved, resulting in fines that had been running from between 1,549 days to 607 days at a rate of about $50 per day for most of the violations.

The report recommends dropping the civil penalty to $10,222.50, a 99% reduction in the maximum penalties but a still-significant amount in terms of APOC violations. The staff report says Pruitt’s several long-term violations served as an aggravating factor in the case and notes that the violations are a serious breach of campaign transparency laws.

“Staff believes the violations in this matter are serious and strike at the heart of the transparency Alaska’s campaign disclosure laws seek,” explains the report’s conclusion.

The bulk of the proposed fines come from seven incomplete financial reports during the 2016 and 2018 elections, which APOC staff found to have failed to accurately report campaign expenses. State law requires campaigns report when they take on debts—in this case Pruitt took on several campaign expenses related to research, campaign consultants and media production—but Pruitt waited to report the expenses when he paid the bill.

According to the report, many of the expenses should have shown up on earlier reports because Pruitt had already incurred the expenses. Pruitt, according to the report, acknowledged he might have incurred some debts but had waited to disclose them because he wasn’t sure how much it aas going to cost (which is somehow not a problem for other campaigns).

“Although Pruitt contends that all expenditures were reported timely, based on when services were invoiced. He states that he may have incurred an expenditure without knowing the amount and therefore could not know the exact amount until he received an invoice,” the report finds. “Such reporting is contrary to and does not provide the transparency Alaska’s campaign disclosure laws promote.”

The maximum statutory civil penalty for these violations is $372,350 for the 2016 violations and $152,200 for the 2018 violations.

He also faces five unauthorized reimbursements to himself, falling out of the three-day window required under state law for candidates to reimburse themselves. According to the investigation, Pruitt waited until the end of the reporting period to reimburse himself for his campaign’s email marketing bill.

The maximum statutory civil penalty for these violations is $385,850.

In the course of state regulators’ investigation into Pruitt, they also found Pruitt had not returned an over-the-limit contribution from an individual—Pruitt had received $750 when the limit is $500—and his campaign also took a contribution directly from a company, a violation of state campaign finance law.

The maximum statutory civil penalty for these violations is $111,850.

The state regulators dismissed a complaint over Pruitt’s failure to report the clients of PS Strategies, a consulting company owned by his wife Mary Ann Pruitt who separately had a consulting contract with Gov. Mike Dunleavy. State regulators had argued that the clients must be disclosed but this report finds that if Lance Pruitt made a good faith effort to obtain the names—a year after the deadline for him to respond—and recommends the complaint be dismissed.

Reducing the fee amount is not unusual for the Alaska Public Offices Commission. In 2014, Anchorage Democratic Rep. Chris Tuck was hit with a $14,000 fine over a “rat’s nest” of accounting problems over several campaigns that included inadvertently mixing personal expenses with his campaign expenses. He would have faced a maximum civil penalty of more than $700,000 in that case.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission is scheduled to meet in early January.

Pruitt, who was first elected in 2010 and is one of the longest-serving Republicans in the House, lost his 2020 election to Democratic Rep.-elect Liz Snyder by 11 votes. He is currently asking the court to throw out certain votes, arguing that an Alaska State Supreme Court decision to put the witness signature requirement for by-mail absentee ballots on hold during the pandemic was unconstitutional, or hold a new election.

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