A group opposed to Ballot Measure 2, which would change how elections work in Alaska, must change its radio ads within three days or pull them from the air entirely, Alaska’s political campaign regulator ordered Thursday.
If approved in the Nov. 3 general election, the measure would merge the state’s two primary elections into one. The top four vote-getters from that combined primary, regardless of party, would advance to a ranked-choice general election. Another piece of the measure requires greater financial disclosure.
In a written decision, the Alaska Public Offices Commission ruled that Defend Alaska Elections — Vote No on 2 isn’t properly disclosing its donors.
State law requires political ads to list the top three donors behind a campaign, but Defend Alaska Elections' top donors changed significantly between the time it booked a large series of radio ads and the time those ads first aired. Without an order, the older list of top donors would have aired until Election Day.
The decision is a victory for the “vote yes” campaign, which accused its opposition of deliberately spreading wrong information. Brett Huber, the “vote no” campaign manager, fiercely denied that accusation.
“We haven’t and will not play any games. We’re just trying to get information to voters,” he said.
Shea Siegert, campaign manager for Yes on 2 for Better Elections, said in a written statement that Huber is wrong.
“This scheme to deceive voters disgusts me, as it should disgust all Alaskans. This group’s willingness to hide the sources of dark money they’re using to fight Ballot Measure 2′s disclosure requirements just proves how badly we need to pass this measure," he said.
Ballot Measure 2 does not require greater disclosure for groups supporting ballot measures, only those supporting candidates.
Huber said on Thursday that rather than challenge the regulators' decision in court, he’s going to fix the issue and work on winning the election.
“Although I think a case in the court would have merit, I’m not going to challenge the case in court,” he said.
In advertising, Defend Alaska Elections had listed former Gov. Sean Parnell, former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and outdoorsman John Sturgeon as its top financial contributors based on an early financial report.
Days later, the Alaska Republican Party, Republican State Leadership Committee, Americans for Prosperity and other donors contributed much more money. By that time, Defend Alaska Elections had booked and produced — but not yet aired — ads listing Parnell, Begich and Sturgeon as its top contributors. The ads were scheduled to run through Election Day, and some of the new money was used to pay for the previously booked ads.
Tom Lucas, a staffer for the commission, had advised Huber that he interpreted state law as requiring disclosure of top donors at the time the ads are booked and produced.
The commission decided differently. It said an ad doesn’t need to be updated every time the top donors change, “but the group must ensure the disclosure is accurate on the date the ad first airs."
In its order, the commission referred the issue back to staff for further investigation and possible fines.