Politics

Dunleavy campaign calls for complaint alleging ‘scheme’ to be dropped

Mike Dunleavy, governor, campaign

Responding to a complaint filed earlier this month to the Alaska Public Offices Commission, Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who is running for reelection, is asking that the complaint be dismissed, calling it “specious and unfounded.”

The original complaint alleged that Dunleavy engaged in a scheme “to improperly subsidize his campaign” using public funds and coordinating with an independent expenditure group. It was filed by attorney Scott Kendall, a longtime Dunleavy critic and former chief of staff to former Gov. Bill Walker, on behalf of two watchdog groups, the Alaska Public Interest Research Group and the 907 Initiative. The groups on Friday filed a supplemental complaint alleging that Dunleavy’s campaign “engaged in additional abuse of public dollars, violations of procurement law, violations of the Executive Ethics Act and utilization of state equipment for campaign purposes.”

Commission staff said Friday that they were conducting an investigation into the allegations and that the investigation will conclude by Oct. 10. Then it will be up to commissioners to call a special meeting to make a determination on how to proceed. Without a special meeting, the commission will discuss the contents of the complaint at APOC’s next scheduled meeting, set for December.

AKPIRG and the 907 Initiative are also requesting APOC obtain independent counsel to investigate the allegations in the complaint. Typically, the allegations are investigated by counsel from the Department of Law, under the purview of the attorney general who is appointed by the governor.

Thomas Amodio, an attorney representing Dunleavy’s campaign, submitted a letter responding to the original complaint on Friday, the deadline to respond to the complaint that was filed Sept. 6.

The campaign “categorically denies that there has been any coordination or cooperation” with independent expenditure group A Stronger Alaska, which is working to support Dunleavy’s re-election, or Brett Huber, who briefly worked for both the group and the governor’s office, according to the letter.

Although Huber and his consulting firm, Strategic Synergies, “had indeed entered into a contract with the governor’s office to provide consulting services,” that contract — signed April 25 — was ended around May 31, according to the campaign’s response. While the contract was active, the campaign said that Huber reported to Randy Ruaro, who was Dunleavy’s chief of staff at the time. Ruaro has not been associated with the campaign.

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Dunleavy’s current acting chief of staff, Tyson Ghallager, is actively volunteering on the campaign, according to campaign spokesman Andrew Jensen. Jensen, a speechwriter for the governor, is working for the campaign on a volunteer basis.

The original complaint says Huber was listed as a deputy treasurer for Dunleavy’s campaign before working for the independent expenditure group. The campaign said in their response that “this was purely an administrative oversight and did not result in any coordination or cooperation.” As deputy treasurer, Huber could lawfully accept campaign contributions and pass them along to the campaign, but according to the filing, Huber had not received any contributions since October 2021.

In a response to the original complaint submitted by Huber, he said the filing “contains no proof or evidence whatever (sic) because, quite simply, no coordination occurred here.”

A Stronger Alaska, the independent expenditure group, denied in its response that there was coordination with the governor’s office or his re-election campaign.

“All ASA contractors had resigned any position they may have had with the Dunleavy for Governor campaign before their engagement with ASA,” the filing says. “Any appearance of overlap is simply due to delays in updated reporting.”

The Republican Governors Association — which was accused in the original filing of skirting reporting requirements by making a contribution to the independent expenditure group before a new reporting rule went into effect — asked the complaint against the organization be dismissed because they had not violated any existing law at the time.

Responding to the filings from Dunleavy’s campaign and the other groups named in the complaint, 907 Initiative Executive Director Aubrey Wieber said the campaign hadn’t provided sufficient evidence to support their request for the complaint to be dismissed.

“What they did was call these allegations fake news but stop short of providing any information to substantiate their position,” Wieber said.

In a supplemental filing submitted Friday by AKPIRG and the 907 Initiative, they listed additional information that they say supports the claim that Dunleavy’s campaign is illegally subsidized using public dollars.

The new filing submitted Friday by AKPIRG and the 907 Initiative allege that a $4,000-a-month contract between the governor’s office and Virginia-based Vought Strategies “raises suspicions that it is related to campaign activities” because the governor already has a sizable communications staff and because the contract overlaps with the governor’s reelection campaign.

Vought Strategies was first hired under a $4,000-a-month contract in November 2019, Alaska Public Media previously reported. At the time, the firm helped Dunleavy’s administration with its in-state communications strategy, Huber told Alaska Public Media in 2020. Asked Friday what services Vaught Strategies provides the governor’s office, Dunleavy spokesman Jeff Turner declined to answer.

The complaint also points to a Sept. 18 news conference held by the governor, when a member of the governor’s staff shared his screen, revealing news advertisements that included images of the governor. The complaint alleges that if the ads are meant to be used by the campaign but saved on a computer used by a state employee, this “would violate the Executive Ethics Act” and constitute “unlawful ‘in kind’ contribution to the campaign.” However, Jensen said Friday the ads were meant to promote the governor’s official activities in office and ultimately were never published.

Responding to the supplemental complaint, Jensen said in an email that it “is more of the same in an obvious and desperate attempt to rehabilitate the original filing’s glaring errors with new and equally false charges.”

The supplemental complaint also alleges that according to campaign finance reports, Dunleavy spent 10 times more on campaign staffing before the primary election in 2018, compared to the amount his campaign spent before the primary in 2020. Jensen said in response that is due to the new election system in Alaska, under which Dunleavy was all but assured to advance in the primary.

In 2018 “you had a closed Republican primary in which he was seeking the nomination versus this year’s open primary in which it was essentially a foregone conclusion. So obviously staffing decisions are different,” Jensen said. But he also said that he is not aware of any personnel changes on the campaign following the Aug. 16 primary.

“I’m a volunteer and plan on remaining a volunteer,” said Jensen, after noting that he took time off from his day job in the governor’s office to address the APOC complaint even as the governor was expected to hold a news conference with the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency later in the day.

“I’m running pretty ragged. A lot of long days,” Jensen said. “But the official business always comes first.”

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Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The Associated Press and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at isamuels@adn.com.

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