The Alaska Public Offices Commission has found that two groups spending money in this year's campaign for governor violated state campaign-finance laws.
APOC fined the Republican Governors Association and a group called Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy $4,450 each, according to a decision released Friday. APOC is the state agency that regulates campaign finance.
The Washington, D.C.-based Republican Governors Association, or the RGA, helps elect and support Republican governors, according to the organization's website. Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy is an independent expenditure group created this year and primarily funded by the RGA.
Unlike candidates, independent expenditure groups can raise unlimited amounts of money from groups and individuals. The groups, however, can't coordinate with candidates and their campaigns.
The re-election campaign for Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott filed complaints with APOC at the end of September against the the RGA and Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy. Both groups support Republican Mike Dunleavy in the Alaska governor's race. Walker is running as an independent.
The Walker-Mallott campaign accused the RGA of setting up Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy as a "front group," to shield its donors from public disclosure and to make it appear that the advertisements it funds originate from Alaska and not from Outside.
According to APOC filings, Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy had reported about $2.7 million in contributions by mid-Monday, all but $7,000 coming from the RGA.
The Walker-Mallott campaign said the RGA violated campaign finance laws by failing to register as an independent expenditure group and failing to report expenditures. It said Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy also failed to properly register and file reports with APOC.
APOC found that the RGA and Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy violated the state's prohibition on making expenditures without first registering with APOC when they reserved TV ad time. Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy also failed to file accurate APOC reports because it did not report contributions and expenditures related to media reservation, amounting to another violation, APOC said.
The agency also ordered the RGA to register with APOC, and ordered Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy to file accurate independent expenditure reports, according to the decision.
At the heart of the complaints was the question of what constitutes an expenditure.
"The RGA acknowledges making the air time reservations, but argues that the reservations do not constitute 'expenditures' because the RGA alleges that it did not pay for the ad time and that it could have been cancelled," the APOC decision said.
"But the definition of 'expenditure' is broader than RGA claims," the decision said. "The statute also encompasses a 'promise or agreement to purchase or transfer money or anything of value,' which, in the case of a promise or agreement, does not require payment nor a does it require a contract."
Stacey Stone, an attorney representing Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy and the RGA, said Monday that it was "somewhat unusual" that the APOC decisions were not unanimous. The commission voted 3-2 in favor of finding the RGA in violation for making expenditures without first registering with APOC, and voted 4-1 on the other violations.
The maximum civil penalty for failure to register with APOC is $50 per day for each day the violation continues. The penalty is the same amount for failure to file an accurate report.
APOC reduced the maximum penalties by 50 percent "due to the respondents' status as inexperienced filers — i.e., entities that have been subject to a registration or reporting requirement for less than 365 days," the decision said.
The parties involved are able to make an appeal related to the amount of the fine.