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Politics

Alaska campaign regulators recommend steep fine for Rep. Lance Pruitt

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: December 16, 2020
  • Published December 16, 2020

Republican incumbent Rep. Lance Pruitt waved to motorists as he campaigned on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Staff at the Alaska Public Offices Commission are recommending that defeated Anchorage Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt be fined at least $10,222.50 for multiple violations of state law during Alaska’s 2016 and 2018 legislative elections.

Any fine must be approved by the five-member commission, which will meet Jan. 13.

“Staff recommends that the Commission find that Pruitt’s 2016 and 2018 campaign for House District 27 violated provisions of AS 15.13 by failing to accurately report incurred expenditures as debt, failing to provide information detailing media advertising placement and consulting services rendered, failing to timely reimburse personal funds or report the use of personal funds as contributions, and failing to return two prohibited contributions,” says a report issued Tuesday.

Pruitt said the violations cited by APOC are innocent mistakes that could have been corrected earlier if he had known about them, and all have since been fixed.

“There’s no trying to hide. There’s nothing in there,” he said, suggesting that APOC should re-analyze the recommendation.

Pruitt lost his 2020 election by 11 votes to Democrat Liz Snyder but is challenging that result in court. Oral argument in that case will take place Jan. 8.

The problems listed by APOC staff:

* Pruitt accepted more than $500 from a single donor in 2016;

* He received a $250 contribution from an unregistered political group in 2018;

* He failed to provide details of advertising purchased in 2016 and 2018;

* Pruitt improperly reimbursed himself for campaign expenses.

The maximum possible fine exceeds $1 million, but regulators rarely approach the maximum and usually discount fines by 90% or more. In this case, regulators are recommending a 99% reduction.

By phone, Pruitt said the problems were small mistakes, and regulators themselves missed some of them in a prior audit. The size of the fine is based on the fact that regulators fine politicians for each day that a problem goes unresolved.

“Did it cause public harm? No,” Pruitt said when asked about one finding, that he accepted more than $500 from a single person in the 2016 campaign. “Once I knew about it, I sent it back to him. ... It was a human mistake, it was an accident.”

The issues were first identified in a complaint filed Oct. 7 by Paula DeLaiarro, a resident of Pruitt’s district who performs campaign accounting for campaigns — mostly Democratic — across Alaska.

“I have been treasurer for over 30 APOC-regulated campaigns and I take compliance seriously,” she said by email.

She did not work for Pruitt’s Democratic challenger, Snyder, but knew the race between Pruitt and Snyder would be “a barn burner” and looked at Pruitt’s previous races to see what he had done.

“I assumed his reports would be fairly straightforward and uninteresting. What I found was shocking. Pruitt’s are perhaps the most violation-laden reports I’ve ever seen filed by a veteran legislator,” she said.

“Indeed, in the 2016 campaign, about 30% of his TOTAL incurred monetary expenses were not made public until he filed his Year End Report on 2/15/2017, over 3 months after the election. His grossly erroneous reports not only deprived his opponent of an accurate snapshot of his campaign finances, but also misled the public and the press,” she said.

Pruitt doesn’t agree. “This was a political opponent that went in with the intent to try to create something out of it — political harm to me,” he said.

In addition to the campaign finance problems, DeLaiarro alleged that Pruitt improperly listed income from his wife, Mary Ann Pruitt, on annual disclosure forms required of all legislators. That complaint was not upheld.

Mary Ann Pruitt owns and operates PS Strategies, a public relations firm that works with many of Alaska’s political campaigns. It’s named after Pruitt and Dave Stieren, who now works for Gov. Mike Dunleavy. (Stieren and Pruitt dissolved their working partnership after a legal dispute.)

DeLaiarro said Mary Ann Pruitt should be required to disclose her company’s clients, but regulators said Lance Pruitt only needed to demonstrate that he made a “good faith effort” to obtain that list of clients.

Pruitt asked for the list but his wife said no, according to a letter he sent APOC investigators. Mary Ann Pruitt did not respond to a phone call or text message seeking comment on Wednesday morning.

Lance Pruitt said by phone that he and his wife have a “clear distinction” that he does not get involved in her business.

“It absolutely makes sense that a husband and wife, whether it’s me and my wife or anyone else, that they can separate their business dealings,” he said.

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