Chronic underfunding of APOC is causing delayed action on campaign finance violations

The Alaska Public Offices Commission today delayed decisions on three major campaign finance complaints as its limited staff struggles to keep up with higher-than-ever campaign activity, its director told commissioners today.

Two campaign complaints relating to the 2020 elections and one relating to years of violations by Anchorage Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt were due for commission action today but were instead rescheduled to the commission’s June 10 meeting. APOC Executive Director Heather Hebdon commented on the delays during her report to the commission, chalking it up to a small staff stretched too thin.

APOC is currently funded for a total of eight full-time positions and all but one is currently filled because of the state’s hiring freeze. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy is proposing to delete funding for that eighth position in his latest budget. In her written report, Hebdon writes “the timing on this one really couldn’t be worse.”

In her comments during today’s hearing, Hebdon said the delays are a prime example of what’s happening due to the funding issues.

“It’s pretty disappointing considering the level of activity has just blown up exponentially for the state elections,” she said. “I think today’s hearing is probably a good example of complaint matters that now won’t be considered until the June meeting and that’s largely because of staff, we just don’t have the resources that we need for these elections and state elections.”

She noted that things are only expected to become busier for campaign finance regulators in the months and years to come with a hotly contested Anchorage mayoral election followed by the 2022 gubernatorial election and any other major issues that may reach that ballot. She added that Ballot Measure 2, which adds additional oversight on dark money spent to influence candidate races, could also lead to an increased workload for the long-underfunded agency.

“I definitely see a lot more activity for campaign disclosure, independent expenditure activity,” she said. “But based on the general election and the general activity, we just don’t have adequate staffing to address anything in a timely manner.”

Commissioners were sympathetic to the issues and agreed to pen a resolution calling for the agency’s budget to be maintained in the pending budget.

“I would hate to see your staff suffer even more losses,” said Commissioner Dan LaSota, of Fairbanks. “I think it would be helpful if we communicated as a whole to the governor’s office and perhaps the key committees about the importance of what your staff does and how it impacts our ability to make decisions.”

The commission also approved a resolution to get underway with reviewing Ballot Measure 2 to understand how the state’s campaign finance regulations may need to be updated.

In separate campaign finance issues, the commission also heard appeals from Anchorage Rep. Chris Tuck over a $19,150 penalty due to incomplete campaign disclosures and from Kim Minnery of Alaska Family Action over about $4,000 in penalties for failing to properly register as an independent expenditure group during the 2020 Anchorage Municipal elections. Both issues were taken under advisement with a written decision out in 10 days.

As for the complaints that were bumped, one dealt with the Alaska Policy Forum and other groups efforts to campaign against Ballot Measure 2 without properly registering as a political group, one deals with the group backing the oil tax increases in Ballot Measure 1 and a third deals with years of unresolved campaign finance violations by Rep. Pruitt.

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