The Alaska Public Offices Commission is not pushing for immediate penalties against a pro-Dunleavy super PAC after an expedited hearing on Friday, which relied almost exclusively on the testimony of the person linking the two campaigns, “did not further establish ongoing coordination.”
The complaint alleges A Stronger Alaska—a super PAC run with $3 million in Republican Governors Association money—illegally coordinated with Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s campaign when it signed Brett Huber to a consulting contract while Huber was also a deputy treasurer for the governor’s campaign.
Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in elections, including contributions from corporations, but are supposed to maintain a firewall between themselves and the candidates they are supporting. In granting the expedited hearing, APOC Chair Anne Helzer said there was good reason to believe the group’s independence had been undermined.
“The commission … has found that there is reasonable cause to believe that A Stronger Alaska has expended money that was not independent of the campaign based on Alaska Statute,” said APOC Chair Anne Helzer, a Republican, at a hearing last Wednesday. “The public at large has a compelling need to know whether coordination occurred or continues to occur.”
In an order today, the group said they didn’t find any compelling evidence of ongoing coordination and would be pushing ahead with a regular investigation that will likely be completed after the election.
Huber was the key witness on Friday’s expedited hearing, telling commissioners that everything that appeared to suggest coordination—such as the fact that he formed his consulting company the same day that the $3 million contribution was made or that he got it in good standing on the day he signed the consulting contract—was just mere coincidences. He told the commissioners that in his $80,000 consulting contract with the PAC, he’s had no personal knowledge of the innerworkings of A Stronger Alaska like the group’s polling plans, overall campaign strategy, who’s even running the campaign or who he’s getting paid by.
Scott Kendall, the attorney who was representing the complainants Alaska Public Interest Research Group and the 907 Initiative, told commissioners that it was to be expected that Huber would avoid incriminating himself and urged the commissioners to look instead at the public documents that showed Huber was involved not just in the super PAC and the governor’s campaign but also was on a state contract where he was reporting directly to the governor’s office.
“I don’t know what satisfactory evidence of coordination would be for him unless Mr. Huber said, ‘My name is Brett Huber and I coordinated,’” Kendall told the commissioners. “Of course, circumstantial evidence was important, of course documentary importance and of course it can show enough of a reasonable suspicion that this occurred that this commission could act.”
The problems outlined by Kendall are the same that APOC investigators have faced while investigating the complaint.
Both A Stronger Alaska and the Republican Governors Association, a GOP dark money group, refused to participate with campaign finance regulators’ investigation. Their demands that all documents and information be obtained through a subpoena rather than voluntarily provided prevented investigators from completing their investigation on time, leading to a request that the investigation be delayed and pushed past the election.
APOC commissioners approved that delay today, ordering everyone involved to try to work something out on the investigation with a deadline to provide information to the investigators no later than Oct 31, just a week before election day.
The order notes that if A Stronger Alaska and the Republican Governors Association continue to refuse to participate that the commissioners “will entertain motions by APOC staff related to discovery” on an expedited basis.
Left untouched in today’s ruling were the surprise allegations raised by Kendall at Friday’s hearing that suggested far larger problems are underway with A Stronger Alaska and the Republican Governors Association. Namely that the IRS filings of the Republican Governors Association makes no reference to a $3 million contribution to A Stronger Alaska but does include records of payments directly to Huber.
Kendall told APOC commissioners that he merely raising the issue to call Huber’s credibility into question and that it would likely be addressed in a separate complaint.
At the time, he said the possible revelations should trigger alarm bells because it would mean that the RGA is campaigning as an unregistered and unregulated entity, using A Stronger Alaska as a front in order to hide critical information about who—or what—is attempting to influence the state’s elections.