Alaska campaign finance regulators set to determine if Dunleavy’s campaign illegally coordinated with an independent group

Alaska’s campaign finance regulators decided Wednesday to hold an emergency hearing to determine whether Gov. Mike Dunleavy has illegally coordinated with an independent expenditure group supporting him in his reelection campaign.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission scheduled the expedited hearing for Friday, after two watchdog groups filed a complaint against the reelection campaign of Dunleavy, a Republican, and an independent expenditure group, accusing them of illegal coordination. The attorney for the groups that filed the complaint, Scott Kendall, said they requested an expedited hearing after the independent expenditure group, A Stronger Alaska, declined to provide information requested by the commission in their staff-led investigation.

The commission found “there is reasonable cause to believe that A Stronger Alaska has expended money that was not independent of a campaign,” Commission Chair Anne Helzer said.

The emergency hearing will be held Friday afternoon, when Kendall is expected to ask on behalf of the complainants that the commission stop A Stronger Alaska from spending the $3 million it has in its account going into the final month before Election Day, Nov. 8.

The complaint was filed last month by the Alaska Public Interest Research Group and the 907 Initiative, who allege that Dunleavy schemed “to improperly subsidize his campaign” using public funds and coordinating with A Stronger Alaska, via Brett Huber. Dunleavy’s campaign responded by asking that the complaint be dismissed.

Huber was hired in April to manage A Stronger Alaska, while he was still listed as a deputy treasurer of Dunleavy’s official reelection campaign, the complainants alleged. Coordination between a candidate’s official campaign and an independent expenditure group is illegal under state law.

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Dunleavy faces three opponents in the race, including Democrat Les Gara and independent former Gov. Bill Walker, both of whom have repeatedly attacked Dunleavy’s record throughout their campaigns. Kendall, the attorney representing the complainants in the case, previously served as Walker’s chief of staff but said Wednesday that he had not been in touch with Walker about the complaint and had filed it after he was approached by AKPIRG and the 907 Initiative.

The $3 million in the account of A Stronger Alaska came from the Republican Governors Association two days before a new law went into effect requiring the disclosure of the source of the funds. Kendall has asked that the independent expenditure group be disbanded and that the funds be returned to the contributors. Then, Kendall says, the donors could re-contribute the funds, but the sources would have to be disclosed under Alaska’s new disclosure law that is now in effect.

The independent expenditure group recently moved to begin spending the funds, including more than $300,000 in direct mail, according to a September report.

The $3 million in A Stronger Alaska’s account dwarfs the funds all four gubernatorial campaigns have combined going into the final 30 days of campaigning, according to campaign finance reports filed this week. Kendall said that is part of why he favors holding an emergency hearing, rather than waiting for the commission to conduct an investigation that could drag on past election day.

“We just don’t believe, given that a firehose of money is now pointed at our election, that we can sit back and wait until after Election Day,” Kendall told commissioners Wednesday.

Richard Moses, the attorney representing A Stronger Alaska, accused the complainants of trying to restrict freedom of speech by attempting to stop the group from spending its $3 million, saying it could “materially affect the outcome of the election” and would constitute “an egregious violation of the First Amendment.”

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At the Friday hearing, Kendall is expected to present the complainants’ case “on the narrow question of whether there was coordination between A Stronger Alaska and the Dunleavy campaign.” Attorneys for A Stronger Alaska, the Republican Governors Association, and Dunleavy’s campaign, and Huber are all expected to appear at the hearing.

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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 AP and Report for America and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at isamuels@adn.com.