OPINION: Ranked-choice opponents appear to be playing fast and loose with Alaska’s election laws

Opponents of ranked choice voting in Alaska want to put an initiative on the 2024 ballot so that voters can overturn the law. To do that, they need to collect signatures from about 26,000 registered voters to win a spot in the statewide election.

To gather the signatures, and then run a campaign to convince a majority of voters to dump the new voting system, they will need money. Six-figure money. Which means fundraising.

But the laws around soliciting and accepting campaign donations are a problem for people who would prefer to remain anonymous. The laws also require disclosure of how the money is spent. Even more of a handicap for campaign fundraisers: Political donations are not deductible on federal taxes.

So, what better way to solve the problems than to hide behind a tax-deductible, self-proclaimed religious organization that could accept anonymous donations?

It appears that’s what Alaskans for Honest Elections, which is leading the ballot initiative effort, has done. I guess the name of the group is more for show than anything else.

Just as the name of the Ranked Choice Education Association doesn’t match up with its real work of influencing political ballot initiatives. It incorporated as a church in Washington state in December 2022. According to its articles of incorporation, its mission is “to promote Christian doctrines, establish and oversee places of worship, evangelize worldwide, support missionary activities.” Oh yes, and promote “the preservation of truth.”

It sure seems to me that misleading political fundraising is contrary to the preservation of truth, but the church works in wondrous ways.


Besides, it’s complicated.

At least the association’s website is more honest than its incorporation papers, which I suspect were written to comply with Washington state law to qualify as a tax-exempt religious organization. The website doesn’t say a word about worship, evangelizing or missionary activities. All it talks about is ranked choice voting and why the group believes it does not work. Oh yes, and the website asks for money.

Money, it appears, that will help fund the effort in Alaska to overturn ranked choice voting.

The new church is an “integrated auxiliary” of the Wellspring Fellowship of Alaska, according to its incorporation papers. Art Mathias is president of the Ranked Choice Education Association and director of the anti-ranked choice Alaskans for Honest Elections. He also is president of Wellspring Ministries, which includes Wellspring Fellowship.

At a February event at Wellspring Ministries in Anchorage, Mathias told attendees that he had contributed $100,000 to Alaskans for Honest Elections and asked them to donate, too, according to a news report in the Anchorage Daily News. Except that his donation did not appear on the group’s filings with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, which tries to enforce the state’s campaign finance laws. Instead, records showed he gave his money to the Washington state-based religious nonprofit, which had sent at least $90,000 of it to Alaskans for Honest Elections.

At least the money made it back to Alaska.

The group that brought ranked choice voting and open primaries to Alaska — winning voter support in a 2020 ballot initiative — has filed a complaint with state regulators, alleging that Alaskans for Honest Elections has violated state campaign finance laws with its fundraising workaround.

Such complaints are becoming as common as summer rain in Anchorage — and just as frustrating.

The underlying problems are too much money in political campaigns, inadequate enforcement of the laws on the books and large holes for front groups to raise and spend money without disclosing their donors. I pray the Alaska Legislature gets religion about strengthening campaign finance laws.

Maybe I could get the new church to support me in that.

Larry Persily is a longtime Alaska journalist, with breaks for federal, state and municipal service in oil and gas, taxes and fiscal policy work. He lives in Anchorage and is publisher of the Wrangell Sentinel weekly newspaper.

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Larry Persily

Larry Persily is a longtime Alaska journalist, with breaks for federal, state and municipal service in oil and gas, taxes and fiscal policy work. He currently is publisher of the Wrangell Sentinel weekly newspaper.