Anchorage mayoral candidate Forrest Dunbar has lodged a complaint with the state against one Outside group backing his opponent, Dave Bronson, as tens of thousands in out-of-state money flows in to support both candidates in the race.
Dunbar’s treasurer, Paula DeLaiarro, filed the complaint Thursday with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, the state agency that oversees campaign finance, against the independent expenditure group Alaskans for Change - Bronson.
An independent expenditure is used by groups or individuals who are separate from campaigns in order to support a campaign without making a direct donation.
DeLaiarro claims that the group made expenditures before registering itself with the commission, a violation of state statute.
“Anybody can jump in, give money, form a group. They have every right to participate,” DeLaiarro said. “But they also have a responsibility to follow the rules.”
That independent expenditure group has so far spent a total of $53,167 for advertising and attorney fees in support of Bronson’s campaign. It made three payments to an Anchorage law firm in February and March, before the group registered with the state on April 27, according to its online reports.
When reached by phone, the group’s treasurer, Thomas Drake, said that “it’s not a valid complaint” and declined to comment further.
Drake is the vice president of Columbia Sussex, a corporation based in Kentucky that operates multiple hotels around the country, including three in Anchorage.
Reports filed with the state show that Alaskans for Change - Bronson is funded by a Florida-based company, CP Management Inc., owned by the president of Columbia Sussex, William J. Yung III. It has contributed $60,000 according to the report.
The same day Alaskans for Change - Bronson registered with the commission, it spent $43,000 for advertising, a report filed with the state shows.
The Bronson campaign declined to comment on the Dunbar campaign’s complaint because it does “not coordinate with independent expenditures or know of their activities,” campaign manger Brice Wilbanks said by email.
Outside money also backing Dunbar
Outside money is flowing into the Anchorage mayoral election on both sides.
The amount spent so far by independent expenditures in support of Bronson this year — about $53,600 — is less than half of what has been spent by independent expenditure groups in support of Dunbar so far.
Just under $180,000 in independent expenditures have been made in support of Dunbar this year, according to an analysis by the Daily News of reports filed with the state.
Independent expenditure group Building a Stronger Anchorage received $35,000 from the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit the Sixteen Thirty Fund, which has, in the recent past, been funded through large anonymous donations and supports left-leaning causes and candidates, according to a report by Politico.
Building a Stronger Anchorage has spent upwards of $25,000 to support Dunbar in the election.
And the Alaska Center’s independent expenditure group received a $50,000 contribution in February from the Tides Advocacy Center, a California-based group “committed to advancing social justice,” according to its website.
The Alaska Center IE has spent more than $92,600 of its funds in support of Dunbar this year so far. That includes $48,000 on digital advertising.
DeLaiarro said that there is nothing in Alaska’s rules or regulations that requires a group to be in Alaska or live in Alaska to use money to influence an Alaska election. However, some independent expenditure groups register with names that imply the group is local when it is not, she said.
Bronson has several times targeted Dunbar in statements over what Bronson said is “dark money” — money from obscured sources — flowing into the Anchorage election in support of Dunbar.
“Forrest uses a false forum narrative to fuel negative ads funded with his dark, outside money machine. That’s not our forward-looking campaign’s plan,” Bronson said in an emailed statement last week.
At a debate earlier this month, Bronson questioned Dunbar over independent expenditures made in support of his campaign.
“Mr. Dunbar, a majority of the dark money used in your attack independent expenditures are from out-of-state sources,” Bronson said. ”... Do you condone these negative attacks coming from Seattle and Washington, D.C.?”
Dunbar at an April debate said his campaign does not have connections to the independent expenditure groups and that by law he is not allowed to be connected to them. He said the majority of direct donations to his campaign are from Alaskans.
“The IEs — we’re not connected to them. And you should stop implying that we are, because it is factually inaccurate,” Dunbar said.
Jason Grenn, executive director at Alaskans for Better Elections, said that it’s important for Alaskans to know before they vote exactly where Outside money is coming from, and who or what it is supporting in local and state elections.
Alaskans for Better Elections is a nonprofit focused on defending, implementing and educating the public about election reforms passed last November in Alaska under Ballot Measure 2.
The amount of Outside money spent so far in the Anchorage mayor’s race “definitely tracks high,” he said.