Assembly candidate Tosi says he will address issues raised in APOC complaint

ldemer@adn.comFebruary 18, 2014 

Assembly candidate Mao Tosi, the manager of the Northway Mall, has been accused of violating campaign and candidate disclosure requirements.

BOB HALLINEN — Anchorage Daily News Buy Photo

Mao Tosi, a well-known community activist, former NFL player and first-time political candidate running for Anchorage Assembly, is being accused of illegal campaign activities and says he will work to address the issues being raised.

Tosi says he was hand-delivered a copy of a complaint on Monday -- a government holiday -- that was filed Tuesday with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. John E. Lewis, an East Anchorage resident and registered Democrat, made the complaint, according to the cover sheet.

Tosi is in a three-way race for the East Anchorage Assembly seat now held by Adam Trombley, who is running again. Former state Rep. Pete Petersen also is vying for the seat. City elections are nonpartisan but candidates often gain support from political parties. Trombley is a Republican, Petersen is a Democrat and Tosi is not affiliated with a party. Lewis said in an email that he is not connected to the Petersen campaign and filed the complaint as "a concerned citizen."

The 33-page APOC complaint accuses Tosi of 15 violations of campaign and candidate disclosure requirements, including that he was using Northway Mall space, phone line and facilities for his campaign, which would be prohibited corporate donations. Tosi has been Northway Mall manager since 2011.

Paul Daupinais, APOC executive director, said the agency had just received the complaint Tuesday. Lewis asked for it to be considered on an expedited basis, which is a decision the five-member commission must make, Daupinais said. He said he could not discuss the case at this point.

Tosi said he already contacted APOC to sort things out and ensure the paperwork is correct. Some of the disclosure requirements are confusing, he said.

"I looked at this and said, 'Let's just clear up everything,' " Tosi said.

As to operating his campaign from his Northway Mall office, Tosi said "Not anymore. I guess I cannot use it in any way."

The APOC complaint also touches on a non-profit organization, Mao Tosi's Alaska Pride, accusing Tosi of using its P.O. box as the campaign mailing address.

Alaska Pride has its own disclosure problems, having failed three years running to file its required annual returns to the Internal Revenue Service.

Tosi, 37, is not only a political newcomer, he's relatively new to voting itself. He first registered in September 2008 and has only participated in one city election, according to the state Division of Elections. That was in 2012 when there were no Assembly seats up for consideration and he voted a questioned ballot. He's voted in every general election and one primary since registering.

Tosi officially declared his candidacy for the April 1 municipal election on Feb. 7, the filing deadline.

The APOC complaint accuses Tosi of raising money and launching his campaign website as well as a Facebook "Vote Mao Tosi" page before filing his paperwork.

Tosi disputed in an interview that he raised money or activated his websites prematurely. But he said he is still learning the rules and will address the issues raised in the complaint to bring his campaign into full compliance.

Candidates should know Alaska's campaign and candidate disclosure requirements, asserted Lewis, who lives in the East Anchorage Assembly district.

"Instead, Mr. Tosi has violated Alaska's campaign disclosure laws with nearly every campaign activity and communication that his campaign has undertaken," the complaint said.

Tosi said he doesn't know if Lewis was the man who handed him the complaint on Monday, telling him "you've been served." Someone else videotaped the encounter.

Among other issues, Tosi did not include "paid for by" disclaimers on campaign T-shirts, bumper stickers and other campaign materials, the complaint said. He also filed a form saying his campaign wouldn't spend more than $5,000 so would be exempt from filing further reports on campaign spending and donations, which Lewis also questioned.

The complaint also raised concerns about his personal financial disclosures. Tosi reported making between $50,000 and $100,000 as mall manager, but also reported that the mall's corporate owners, Security National Properties of Eureka, Calif., paid his management firm, Big Tosi Management LLC $200,000 to $500,000. The state only requires candidates and public officials to list financial information within a range.

The complaint asserted that all of that should have been considered income. Tosi said the $200,000-plus figure covers the cost of running the mall including pay for other staff, maintenance and janitorial services. His salary was the $50,000-plus figure, he said.

Tosi said he hasn't heard from the IRS about the separate issue related to Alaska Pride's remiss in filing its annual returns as a tax-exempt organization. The program management got away from him when he began working at the mall and also was busy raising his own family of five children, he said.

The non-profit provides after-school and summer programs for kids, especially those who live in Anchorage's poorest communities.

"I know I have things to fix and go back and take care of while making sure that kids have a place," Tosi said.

Non-profits exempt from federal income taxes must file a form known as a 990 that outlines finances including compensation to directors and key employees. The form must be available to the public.

Tosi's Alaska Pride hasn't filed a disclosure since 2010 even though the organization received state earmarks approved by the Legislature in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The amounts were $80,000, $100,000 and $300,000, respectively, and all the money has been spent, according to Scott Ruby, director of the Division of Community and Regional Affairs.

The program hired part-time staff to work with kids and operated out of the mall in leased space, Tosi said. He also received a salary, $50,000 in 2010, according to that year's report to the IRS.

He said he thought a staff member had taken care of the filings after 2010 and only realized in late 2012 that didn't happen. Since the 2012 award, he hasn't sought more funding and is paying for the rented space and a part-time worker himself, he said.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, secured the earmarks for Tosi's group and said he supported the work to get the kids off the streets and provide a meaningful environment. But he said he's backing his former legislative colleague, Petersen, in the Assembly race.

In 2011 Alaska Pride was the charity picked by the Today show for Al Roker's Lend-A-Hand series, receiving $1.8 million to $1.9 million in gifts, services and money. Tosi said only $30,000 of that was a cash donation from the program, in which Roker traveled to various cities to benefit charities.

The gifts to Alaska Pride included $300,000 worth of baby strollers and $300,000 in food, mainly baby food, that he then redistributed to other organizations, Tosi said. Kayaks were turned over to Camp Fire Alaska. Guitars went to the kids in his program. He ended up with a Toyota Tundra truck -- his own car had broken down. A reported donation of an ATV was actually a gift of ATV tours that didn't get used, he said.

Tosi is Samoan and says he is running for Assembly largely to expand his work on multicultural community issues. He's an East High graduate and played three seasons on the defensive line for the Arizona Cardinals.

Last year he floated the idea of running for mayor. Former Mayor Rick Mystrom, who is trying to get Tosi involved in the multicultural Bridge Builders of Anchorage and is sponsoring him for membership in Anchorage East Rotary Club, said he suggested Tosi try for Assembly first.

"He's a good guy," Mystrom said. "He's a good community citizen."

Tosi said despite the problems, he has a lot to offer Anchorage.

"I didn't want to hide my mistakes or my issues," he said. "And I didn't want to wait. ... I feel I could make a difference now."

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.

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