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The Alaska Public Offices Commission voted in a split decision today to take up the latest complaint against a pro-Dunleavy independent expenditure group and its funder, the Republican Governors Association, on an expedited basis. The decision was made on a 3-2 vote in a longer-than-expected executive session after attorney Scott Kendall made the case that documents filed by the groups—including banking documents that were voluntarily produced—show that the Republican Governors Association is campaigning directly in Alaska’s elections.
The expedited hearing is set for 9 a.m. Friday morning.
The complaint is based on the Republican Governors Association’s filings with the IRS that show the dark money group reporting expenses that the independent expenditure group “A Stronger Alaska” reported to APOC as having made itself. In defense of its actions, attorneys for A Stronger Alaska and the RGA produced documents that show the RGA transferred $3 million to an account labeled A Stronger Alaska.
Kendall argued what the documents really showed was a transfer from one RGA-controlled account to another RGA-controlled account, meaning that it’s been RGA directly campaigning on behalf of Dunleavy all along.
“This commission, from what I can see from the evidence, is going to be presented with the question of can a group just name a sub account in their own bank account something and that becomes a separate entity for important legal purposes such as disclaimers on ads, such as whether the dark money provisions apply, such as whether you’re going to be able to see the top-three donors on every communication,” He said. “Is putting money from your left RGA pocket into your right RGA pocket enough to create an entity?”
Richard Moses, the attorney for A Stronger Alaska, said the IRS filings that made it appear like the RGA was directly paying for campaign expenses in Alaska were simply because A Stronger Alaska and the RGA share the same tax identification number.
Neither Commissioners Dan LaSota and Lanette Blodgett, both Democrats, seemed to be particularly convinced that the two were completely distinct entities.
“Help me understand when two groups share the same EIN number why does that not imply there is really only one group?” LaSota said. “I don’t understand how two separate groups can share the same EIN number.”
“I’m not going to pretend to be a tax expert,” Moses replied before telling him that that should only matter for the IRS and that APOC commissioners shouldn’t be concerned with their tax status.
Moses gave a similarly twisty answer when Blodgett asked about the two entities sharing the same address.
“We’re looking for transparency here,” Blodgett replied before Moses said they did, in fact, share the same address.
APOC Chair Anne Helzer, a Republican, also seemed concerned by the connections.
“Why didn’t the Republican Governors Association just register?” she asked.
The attorneys for the groups said they couldn’t answer for their clients.
They might get that chance at the Friday hearing, where Helzer asked that they produce their witnesses for questioning. So far, the groups have generally resisted any participation with the agency’s investigators.
“The Commission will grant expedited consideration on a vote of 3-2. … It is this commission’s expectation that the RGA and ASA will produce witness testimony to explain the separation between the two entities,” Helzer said, later adding, “We just want to get some answers to the questions that were raised today and make sure that there’s nothing we should be concerned about.”
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