Staff of the Alaska Public Offices Commission on Friday recommended a $52,650 fine against the campaign of Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson for what it says are multiple violations of Alaska campaign finance rules.
The report, released Friday, found that the Bronson campaign violated transparency rules when it did not disclose tens of thousands of dollars in debt for more than seven months after it was incurred — until after this year’s April 6 election and the May 11 runoff — among multiple other infractions of state campaign finance rules, according to the report.
“Finally, after wading through (Bronson for Mayor’s) utterly confusing reports for many days, it is clear to staff that the public had no idea of what was going on in the BFM campaign until well after the April 6, 2021 election and the May 11, 2021 runoff election,” the report said.
Bronson’s campaign finance reports did not come “even close to compliant” until runoff election day, according to the report. It recommends the commission issue the full civil penalty of $52,650.
Bronson’s campaign lawyer, Stacey Stone, said that the campaign is cooperating with APOC’s process, which is still ongoing.
“During the course of the campaign, the campaign became aware of certain errors with regard to reports submitted to the APOC,” Stone said by email. “The Bronson for Mayor campaign has publicly acknowledged those issues and worked to rectify the same in real time. Many prior candidates with nearly identical issues have received significantly lower fines in the past.”
APOC must still review the recommendations and has not yet issued a decision on whether to fine the Bronson campaign or by how much, and the campaign has 10 days to issue a formal response to the staff report.
Forrest Dunbar, Bronson’s opponent in the runoff race for Anchorage mayor, first lodged a complaint in April with the commission, alleging multiple infractions amounting to tens of thousands of dollars in misreported campaign finances and illegally accepted contributions.
“The reporting requirements exists for a reason and that’s transparency,” Paula DeLaiarro, Dunbar’s campaign treasurer, said Friday.
Dunbar and DeLaiarro at the time they filed the complaint requested an expedited review, which the commission denied during a hearing.
During that hearing, Stone said that Bronson’s campaign was working to remedy some errors in its report and also said that some of Dunbar’s allegations were conjecture without proof and should be “dismissed summarily.”
The subsequent investigation by APOC staff into Bronson’s campaign finances found misreported debt, including $95,000 to Hackney and Hackney, a political consultant and communications firm owned by Republican consultant Art Hackney. That debt, which the campaign incurred on Sept. 20, 2020, wasn’t reported until more than seven months later, on May 5, 2021, and “may or may not actually have been $150,000,″ the report states.
The APOC investigation also found that the Bronson campaign, in a report before the April 6 election, did not disclose debt to Axiom Strategies, a Kansas-based Republican political consulting firm founded by Ted Cruz’s former campaign manager.
“Here you have this national political organization that was kind of operating under the radar,” said Paula DeLaiarro, Dunbar’s campaign treasurer.
Bronson signed a contract with Axiom on Feb. 4, putting the company on retainer, but that debt was not included in the campaign’s reports until May, according to the report to APOC. Then, when the Bronson campaign did report the debt, it underestimated the debt to Axiom and changed, from $20,000 to $80,000 and then to $60,000.
The campaign never gave a realistic estimate of the debt, the report said.
As of May 5, payments to Axiom from the Bronson campaign had amounted to $240,831, according to the report.
The staff report found other violations, including not reporting the names of local television and radio stations subcontracted by Hackney and Hackney to run advertisements and accepting a few donations in excess of the $500 per year limit, including an extra $500 from Jerry Prevo, longtime leader of the Anchorage Baptist Temple and president of Liberty University.
The report also recommended dismissing some other allegations from the Dunbar campaign against Bronson.
The report asks that staff be able to continue its investigation into one complaint regarding certain polling data, for which Bronson for Mayor’s reports show no expenditure, debt or nonmonetary contribution that would match acquiring the polling data.
Thomas Lucas, the campaign disclosure coordinator who prepared the report to APOC, said that the commission will now decide whether it agrees with the report’s findings and decide the amount of the fine.
The Bronson for Mayor campaign has 10 days to issue a formal response to the report, Lucas said. Then the commission will take the matter up at its next meeting during the end of September, he said.
“The campaign continues to cooperate with the ongoing process and will respond in due course,” Stone said. “However, this matter should not serve as a distraction from the ongoing work of the Bronson Administration, as it continues to focus on growing the Anchorage economy, tackling issues relating to homelessness and revitalizing the Port of Alaska.”