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Tuck faces fines over faulty campaign disclosure reports

Lisa Demer

Sloppy bookkeeping, bank errors and other problems made a mess of state Rep. Chris Tuck's campaign finance reports in 2010 and 2012, a state investigation found.

Tuck, a Democrat who serves as House minority leader, violated state laws on campaign disclosures, contributions and spending, the Alaska Public Offices Commission staff concluded in a nine-page report.

In a proposed settlement before the commission Wednesday, Tuck agreed to pay a $14,117 fine, forfeit more than $5,800 in leftover campaign funds, amend his 2010 and 2012 campaign reports, submit detailed records for his 2014 campaign and attend training on campaign disclosure requirements.

The maximum potential fine for all the late, incomplete and inaccurate reports would have topped $700,000. But under APOC rules that provide for mounting penalties every day a report is late or inaccurate, tiny paperwork violations can amount to big fines. The rules also allow APOC to reduce those fines, which it does routinely.

The Tuck matter was still in limbo after Wednesday's commission meeting.

The commission -- which includes two Republicans and two Democrats appointed by the governor, as well as a fifth public member -- held off accepting the agreement between Tuck and APOC staff because of questions about what additional reports he still must file.

On Wednesday evening Tuck said he had made mistakes and had worked hard with APOC to fix them. Candidates should disclose campaign contributions and expenses, and he tried to do that, he said.

"I did make errors but it was not ill-intended," Tuck said. He said he never tried to deceive the public. Some of his errors were from over-disclosure -- reporting the same contribution twice, once when the donation was given and a second time when the money was deposited, he said.

"Even corporations don't have their books as tight as APOC wants our books done," he said.

After months of work with an accountant his reports now should be considered complete, Tuck said.

"Everything is there," he said. APOC's fines, he said, are too severe, even the reduced penalty proposed in his case.

"When you have outrageous fines like this, I fear it will be more difficult for people to come forward when they have problems," Tuck said.

Both Tuck and his bank made mistakes that mixed up his personal and campaign money, Tuck told APOC staff members during its investigation, which began in 2012. He provided additional information and filed new reports at APOC's request but those records were not complete, APOC said.

"Things just got a little bit blended and it was hard to get down to the penny," Tuck said.

APOC's staff urged settlement rather than continued pursuit of the case.

"This agreement is in the best interest of the public for several reasons," said the staff report, signed in January by Tuck and Paul Dauphinais, APOC executive director. "First, Rep. Tuck's reports contained so many errors that it is beyond the expertise of APOC staff to untangle the skein of errors that have been compounded since 2010."

Also, Tuck might not be able to fix all the reporting errors. And it wouldn't be a good use of staff time for APOC to examine and revise his reports itself, the agency said.

Tuck, first elected in 2008 to a South Anchorage seat, is running unopposed for his fourth term in the Alaska Legislature.

His campaign account was a sub-account of his personal bank account, with different suffixes but one overall account number.

The wrong checking account was designated for receipt of campaign contributions made online by credit card, so that money went into his personal account, not his campaign account. The bank put the wrong suffix on campaign checks, so they were drawn from his personal account. Some credit card contributions were reported by the campaign but never processed. Some contributions were reported twice.

"To further exacerbate these issues, Rep. Tuck also inadvertently used his campaign debit card for numerous personal expenditures," the APOC report said.

In all, personal expenses topping $11,600 were made through the campaign account as well as almost $2,400 that should have been charged to his legislative office account, the report said.

In an attempt to fix the problem, he transferred money from his personal account to his campaign account and also paid some campaign expenses directly -- repaying more than $16,400 in all. But he never figured out the exact amount and he never filed new disclosure reports showing what APOC considers to be "personal contributions" to the campaign, APOC said.

Tuck said he spent Wednesday afternoon with his accountant and disagreed that any more reporting is needed.

APOC staff members began digging into Tuck's campaign finances in August 2012 after questioning a non-monetary contribution from Diane Thompson, co-owner of the Firetap Alehouse. It was wrongly listed twice on the campaign report.

"We found it during an audit, and the more we looked the more we found," Dauphinais said in a phone interview Wednesday.

The agency asked Tuck to prove the contribution, valued at $382.75 for a July 2012 fundraiser at Firetap, came from Thompson directly and not her business, which would be barred under state law.

While he provided additional records, "it is clear that the campaign was not able to verify if Ms. Thompson personally paid for the service provided by her business," the APOC report said.

More than a year after the fundraiser, the Tuck campaign paid Firetap $382.75, the report said. That violates campaign laws requiring timely disclosures to the public, it said.

Another problem came when Tuck transferred more than $10,900 leftover from his 2012 campaign to start his next campaign. State law limits such transfers to $5,000. And once the records were reconciled, it turned out that Tuck had just $5,814 left over. He's agreed to forfeit all that.

"Apparently there is a misunderstanding," he told the commission Wednesday. "I think everything has been reported. I think the misunderstanding is how it's reported."

Commission members said the matter was close to being resolved.

Reporter Lisa Demer can be reached at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.


By LISA DEMER
ldemer@adn.com
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