APOC staff says Anchorage mayor broke campaign finance law, proposes $187.50 fine

Nathaniel Herz

A report by the state agency that regulates campaign finance laws says Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan broke state law by issuing a campaign-related press release through his city spokeswoman last month.

The report, written by an agency staff member, recommends that Sullivan pay an $187.50 penalty, though that recommendation can be rejected or modified by the five members of the Alaska Public Offices Commission when they consider it at a meeting next month.

Sullivan, who is running for lieutenant governor, did not immediately respond to a phone or text message seeking comment. His city spokeswoman declined to comment.

APOC's staff began investigating Sullivan following a complaint last month from Vince Beltrami, the president of the state's largest organized labor group, the Alaska AFL-CIO.

Beltrami said Sullivan illegally used city resources when his official mayoral spokeswoman issued an apologetic statement for comments Sullivan made at a candidate forum in early May.

Sullivan's comments equated laws requiring union membership and payment of union dues to slavery, and the Anchorage branch of the NAACP later called on him to issue an apology.

According to APOC's report, which Beltrami emailed to the Daily News, Sullivan told APOC staff that he decided to issue the press release following a question from a reporter at an official mayoral press conference, and calls from "numerous media persons" to his city spokeswoman, Lindsey Whitt.

Reporters made no attempt to contact Sullivan "outside of city hall, or through any of the available means to contact the campaign," he wrote in an email to APOC.

"The reply issued by Ms. Whitt did not advance or promote the campaign in any manner," Sullivan added. "It did not seek campaign contributions, advertise a campaign event, seek votes for my candidacy, etc. It simply responded to inquiries to the mayor through mayoral staff."

In her report, Heather Hebdon, a campaign disclosure coordinator for APOC, said that in fact, the press release did violate the state law that prohibits public officials from using municipal resources to campaign.

Hebdon said Sullivan's press release cited the fact that his statements were made at a candidate forum. And, the release noted that the specific labor legislation Sullivan supports is "one of the key planks in the Alaska Republican Party Platform,"

"Staff concludes this is not non-partisan information," Hebdon wrote. "Rather, this statement identifies only the mayor as a candidate for lieutenant governor, restates his position on right-to-work legislation, and aligns him with the Republican Party."

The penalty for the violation is up to $50 day, which could add up to $750 for the 15 days between the date the press release was issued and the date that Beltrami filed his complaint, according to Hebdon's report.

However, APOC uses "mitigation criteria" that allow fines to be reduced when the value of a violation is less than $100 -- which was the case with the press release, Hebdon wrote.

She recommended the fine be dropped to $187.50.