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After nearly a week of deliberations on a complaint against a pro-Dunleavy independent expenditure group and its Outside backer, the Alaska Public Offices Commission has punted it to after the election.
The decision, which moves the complaint from the expedited process to the regular staff-driven investigation, will allow A Stronger Alaska—which is accused of being one in the same with its backer, the Republican Governors Association—to continue to spend the remainder of a $3 million contribution made by the RGA last year on re-electing Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
Read the report: APOC order on expedited consideration
The core of the allegations, which were brought by the Alaska Public Interest Research Group and the 907 Initiative, argued the RGA was basically using A Stronger Alaska as a front to shield the wealthy donors backing Gov. Dunleavy from public scrutiny. They argued the independence was undercut by the fact that expenditures A Stronger Alaska told Alaska campaign regulators they made on their own were claimed by the RGA on tax filings.
During last week’s hearing, the attorneys representing ASA and RGA acknowledged that there was little separation between the two—they share the same staff, same phone number and that they are literally considered the same group in the eyes of the IRS—but argued Alaska’s campaign regulators can’t take that into consideration.
All those problems appear to be concerning to APOC commissioners with today’s order referencing a law that makes it illegal for an unregistered group to campaign in Alaska using a fictious name or using the name of another. From the decision:
The evidence before the Commission so far shows that Republican Governor’s Association did little to distance itself from A Stronger Alaska. Apparently, Republican Governor’s Association created A Stronger Alaska at the behest of their high-ranking employee David Rexrode, who in turn ran the independent expenditure group. There is no independent board overseeing A Stronger Alaska’s expenditures. There is no independent address, no independent phone number, and no other existence of A Stronger Alaska other than a single APOC filing and a bank account it shares with Republican Governor’s Association’s own accounts. At the expedited hearing, Republican Governor’s Association leadership provided no documentation or testimony showing what, if any, their instructions were to Mr. Rexrode. The Republican Governor’s Association did not provide the Commission proof that its Executive Committee sanctioned the purported $3 million contribution to A Stronger Alaska.
But it doesn’t appear that a majority of the commissioners were convinced that, at this point, any laws were broken. Instead, they’re handing over the issue to the APOC staff “on a non-expedited basis to review whether Mr. Rexrode’s efforts were legally sufficient.” On that front, APOC asks that ASA and RGA preserve all records of the groups, including internal correspondence, communications and banking records.
The order explicitly allows A Stronger Alaska to continue spending, but notes that if a law is ultimately found to have been broken that the fines could be considerable.
“The Commission recognizes that by not finding for a violation on an expedited basis under (state law), A Stronger Alaska may continue to make expenditures in Alaska’s elections,” the order explains. “However, if it is later determined that sufficient separation between the two entities does not exist, A Stronger Alaska will continue to make expenditures at its own peril. Moreover, A Stronger Alaska could expose Republican Governor’s Association to penalties during the pendency of Staff’s investigation, if the Commission later finds that the two entities are one in the same.”
But, as AKPIRG and 907 Initiative attorney Scott Kendall said at the outside of the complaint, Alaska’s elections don’t get do-overs. Even if the groups are ultimately found to have made a mockery of Alaska’s election finance laws, it won’t stop Gov. Dunleavy from taking office. Any fine or penalty, as GOP campaigns have increasingly seen in recent elections, are just the cost of doing business.