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APOC fines Anchorage Mayor Sullivan for campaign finance law violation

Devin Kelly

The state agency that regulates campaign finance law has fined Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan $187.50 after determining Sullivan used municipal resources to campaign.

In a decision released Friday, the five-member board of the Alaska Public Offices Commission agreed with a staff report concluding that Sullivan violated campaign finance law by issuing an apologetic statement through his municipal spokesperson for controversial remarks he made at a candidate forum in early May. A complaint against Sullivan was originally filed by Vince Beltrami, president of the state’s largest labor organization, the AFL-CIO.

The fine was about a quarter of the maximum possible penalty of $700. The agency looked at mitigation criteria to reduce the amount of the fine, such as calculating the cost of producing the press release at less than $100.

In previous interviews, Sullivan -- who is running for lieutenant governor -- said he has never before received an APOC violation.

In an email to an agency staff member, Heather Hebdon, this month, Sullivan requested the fine be waived, “given my previous record and the extent of my and my staff’s cooperation with the agency.”  

He also wrote that the front-page newspaper headline generated by the content of Hebdon’s report -- “APOC staff says mayor broke law” -- caused him “personal embarrassment.”

That was, “in my opinion, punishment enough,” Sullivan wrote, “and certainly has made myself and my staff doubly aware of the rules.”

At the candidate forum in May, Sullivan made comments equating laws that require union membership and payment of union dues to slavery, and the Anchorage branch of the NAACP later called on him to issue an apology. He told APOC staff that after he answered a question about the controversy from a reporter at a mayoral press briefing, the mayor's office received a larger-than-normal volume of media calls, and he decided to issue a press release in response. 

His municipal communications director, Lindsey Whitt, drafted the press release and sent it to the municipality’s media contact list, which APOC determined was an illegal use of city resources. The release was also posted on the municipal website, where it remained Friday afternoon.

Sullivan had argued that the release was in response to direct inquiries to the mayor through mayoral staff, not campaign advocacy. An APOC staff report written by Hebdon found otherwise, saying that the release only identified Sullivan as a candidate for lieutenant governor and contained partisan information.

“I believe a minor issue like this is best served with a warning rather than an arbitrarily determined fine,” Sullivan said in a text message Friday evening. “There was clearly no intent to use municipal resources to promote the campaign. Way too much time has been expended by the APOC and by myself and staff on a matter of such a de minimis nature.”

In its decision, the commission directed Sullivan to remove the press release from the municipal website within 24 hours of receiving the order.

Update: This story has been updated to add comment from Mayor Dan Sullivan.