The Alaska Public Offices Commission on Wednesday denied a request to expedite a campaign finance complaint against the campaign of far-right candidate Dave Bronson, which alleged more than $170,000 in contributions and expenditures were either inaccurate or violated state finance law.
The complaint was brought by the campaign of candidate Forrest Dunbar, who will be facing Bronson in a mayoral run-off election set for May 11. The complaints ranged from over-the-limit contributions, improper contributions, late-reported expenditures and allegations of illegal contributions from other political groups.
Paula DeLaiarro, Dunbar’s campaign manager, laid out the allegations to commissioners and argued that the case couldn’t wait until after the election because the misleading reports gave the Bronson campaign an advantage heading into the run-off race.
“Campaigns plan strategy and how they spend their money in part in response to what the opposition is doing. … We don’t even know how much money they actually have because of all these errant dates, sometimes they’re lumping things together and disclosing them well after the fact,” she said. “We need information for us to be able to forward with our campaign. There is substantial evidence of erratic, inaccurate reporting. It sets a very bad precedent if you allow campaigns at this point, weeks away from a run-off election, to get away with sloppy reporting that basically deprives the opposition of an accurate snapshot of what’s happening.”
Stacey Stone, the attorney representing the Bronson campaign, conceded that there were some “small mistakes” in the reporting but objected to the allegations that the campaign was intentionally skirting disclosure laws. She told the commission that the campaign was conducting an audit and would be submitted corrected reports soon.
“In the process of auditing these things we are discovering some issues where we need to provide amendments to reports. We’re working as rapidly as we can to ensure that the information to the public is absolutely 100% correct,” she said. “There are small mistakes that happened, like with a $25 contribution being returned and then not subsequently being reported. Unfortunately, sometimes those things happen but they are being corrected, but to imply that we aren’t taking this seriously is an absolute fallacy.”
Several commissioners seemed supportive of taking up expedited action on the reporting, noting that several of the transactions flagged by the Dunbar campaign looked like they didn’t meet the state’s financial disclosure requirements. APOC Campaign Disclosure Coordinator Thomas Lucas said one expenditure that lumped several different spends into one line was “deficient.”
Asked about one expenditure that appeared to be reported months after it had been initiated, Stone declined to offer a clear explanation.
“With all due respect, I think you’re looking for a simple answer to a very complicated question,” she said.
DeLaiarro interjected: “It’s a complicated matter because the reporting is so bad.”
The commissioners took the matter into a lengthy closed-door executive session to discuss whether to take up the matter on an expedited basis. APOC Chair Anne Helzer said they’d allow the Bronson campaign to address the inaccurate reporting through the amendment process, referring the rest of the complaint to a normal staff investigation that APOC Executive Director Heather Hebdon said, “would take a fairly significant investigation.”
Helzer noted that even though the commission would be taking Stone’s word that the Bronson campaign would be updating its reports, it doesn’t exempt the group from accruing running fines for having inaccurate reports.
“The commission takes these things very seriously,” she said.
Since last night, Bronson’s campaign has filed several amendments all labeled with “Amending to correct incorrect data provided.” It now shows the campaign spent $5,000 on March 8 for polling on the race.
Other conservative school board candidates Judy Eledge and Kim Paulson also submitted amended reports this week. Notes attached to both indicate they also are reporting previously unreported expenditures and contributions.