The group that championed Alaska’s ranked-choice voting reform on Wednesday filed a complaint against several individuals and entities that are leading an effort to repeal Alaska’s new election laws, alleging that they violated multiple campaign finance rules and obscured the source of their funding in the process.
The complaint alleges that opponents of ranked-choice voting founded a church called the Ranked Choice Education Association that could have allowed donors to gain tax advantages for their contributions while skirting disclosure requirements. Those requirements apply to any group working to promote the ongoing effort to repeal Alaska’s ranked-choice voting and open primaries through a ballot measure. The Ranked Choice Education Association appeared to engage in “the laundering of contributions” for Alaskans for Honest Elections, the anti-ranked choice voting ballot group, the complaint alleges.
The complaint was filed by Alaskans for Better Elections — which spent millions of dollars in 2020 advocating for the adoption of ranked-choice voting and open primaries by ballot measure — with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, a government watchdog organization responsible for enforcing the state’s campaign-finance laws.
Art Mathias, president of the Ranked Choice Education Association and the director of Alaskans for Honest Elections, said when reached by phone Wednesday that the complaint is “just politics and lies” but declined to answer specific questions about the allegations in the complaint. Phillip Izon, another leader of the ballot measure group, said many of the allegations in the complaint were the result of misunderstandings of the rules on his part, which he was willing to address if asked by the Public Offices Commission.
Alaskans for Honest Elections formed shortly after the 2022 election to advocate for repealing ranked-choice voting and open primaries, which were first implemented in Alaska that year. While the group claimed to be nonpartisan, Republican former Gov. Sarah Palin, who lost a congressional bid that year, spoke at their first event in November 2022, and leaders of the group — all of whom are registered Republicans — have claimed that Alaska’s new election laws disadvantage Republican candidates.
In a February event held at Wellspring Ministries in Anchorage, a religious organization also implicated in the complaint, Mathias repeatedly told attendees that he had contributed $100,000 to the ballot measure group seeking to overturn ranked choice voting.
“I challenge you to match what I put in. Cash. I put 100 grand in this of my own money. I want to challenge a bunch of you to do the same thing,” Mathias had told attendees at one of the group’s first signature gathering events.
But in a mandatory disclosure to the Alaska Public Offices Commission in April, there is no reported contribution from Mathias. Instead, other filings indicate that Mathias funneled money to the ballot group through the Ranked Choice Education Association, which incorporated as a church in Washington state in December of last year “to promote Christian doctrines,” “evangelize worldwide,” and “support missionary activities.”
The Ranked Choice Education Association website contains information about ranked choice voting and states the group is “working to educate about elections and government.” The website contains no mention of religious activity.
Asked why the group was incorporated as a church, Mathias said Wednesday “that statement isn’t correct” but refused to elaborate.
The complaint alleges that the group’s church status would allow its donors to “falsely obtain tax deductions.” Asked if the group was created as a church in order for donors to gain tax benefits, Mathias did not answer but said the filers of the complaint “don’t even know what they’re talking about.”
The Ranked Choice Education Association, according to one APOC filing, has contributed $90,000 to Alaskans for Honest Elections, which came directly from Art Mathias. Asked if any of the funds he had contributed to the Ranked Choice Education Association had gone to causes other than Alaska’s ballot initiative, Mathias said “that’s none of your business.”
Mathias said it was his “personal choice” not to contribute directly to the ballot measure group, and instead to contribute to the Ranked Choice Education Association.
“We work in many states, that’s why I chose to do it that way,” Mathias said. “The Ranked Choice Education Association isn’t subject to APOC. We don’t do anything in Alaska except education.”
Izon said part of the money donated to the Ranked Choice Education Association had been set aside in an Alaska-specific account but he declined to comment on whether Mathias had requested his contribution be earmarked for the Alaska ballot group. Izon went on to say that Mathias had contributed a large donation in a lump sum in December, which was then transferred to the ballot group in several smaller payments over a period of months to meet the group’s needs.
Mathias claimed that the education association has helped Montana and Idaho pass bans on ranked-choice voting, and has also been active in Missouri and Arizona. The group’s website was previously focused on Alaska but was changed in recent months to apply more broadly to other states, the complaint alleges. Izon said he is in the process of completing work on a book he is writing about ranked-choice voting, which he plans to distribute across the country through the association.
The Ranked Choice Education Association is the primary contributor to Alaskans for Honest Elections, the ballot group seeking to overturn Alaska’s ranked-choice voting and open primaries system. According to Alaskans for Honest Elections’ April APOC report, the group had received a total of just over $90,000 as of April. Of that, nearly $80,000 came from the Ranked Choice Education Association. Less than $12,000 had come from other individual contributors.
Of the contributions to the ballot group, $2,358 came in a cash contribution from the Ranked Choice Education Association, far above the maximum $100 cash donation allowed. Izon said that was a mistake and that he was willing to refund the donation if required to do so by the commission.
Asked about the relatively paltry number of individual contributions, Izon said he doesn’t expect the ballot initiative to require significant spending.
The largest contribution reported by the ballot group was a non-monetary donation from Izon, chair of the group, who reported an in-kind donation of $200,000 in “management costs” in January 2023 for a two-week period. The complaint calls the assertion that Izon’s time is worth that much “fantastical” and “absurd on its face.” Izon said Wednesday that amount is meant to cover the value of his time and work through the 2024 election — a two-year period.
All of the money reportedly spent so far by the ballot group has gone to Leading Light Advisors, a marketing agency owned by Izon’s wife, Diamond Metzner.
The complaint alleges that the Ranked Choice Education Association is illegally acting as an unregistered ballot measure group, and must register with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, meaning it would have to disclose the identity of its donors in greater detail.
The complaint also alleges that another group, Alaskans for Honest Government, is acting as an unregistered ballot group in support of the same cause as Alaskans for Honest Elections. The website for Alaskans for Honest Government advocates for the repeal of ranked-choice voting and directly links to the Alaskans for Honest Elections website, but Mathias claimed the groups are separate and that the “Honest Government” group is not directly working on the ballot initiative.
“Is it illegal to have a link? APOC says we’re fine,” said Mathias.
Izon said that the link “shouldn’t be there” and that he would “make sure it’s deleted.” He also said that Alaskans for Honest Government is not acting as a separate ballot group because no money has been spent on it.
The complaint names Mathias, Izon, Alaskans for Honest Elections, Alaskans for Honest Government, the Ranked Choice Education Association and Wellspring Ministries as respondents. The Alaska Public Offices Commission is expected to determine by the end of the week whether to formally take up the complaint. If it does, the agency will have a month to conduct an independent investigation of the allegations and determine next steps.
Outside of his work to repeal Alaska’s voting reform, Mathias is an insurance agent and minister who has written several books and advocated for right-wing causes. Izon previously owned a marijuana business, and now owns Swarm Intel, a business that “develops and deploys artificial intelligence solutions,” according to its website.
Alaskans for Honest Elections is in the midst of gathering signatures in an effort to put the question on the 2024 ballot of whether to repeal ranked choice voting and open primaries in Alaska. The group must gather 26,000 signatures representing three-quarters of state House districts in order for the question to be placed on the 2024 ballot. Izon said the group is on track to complete the task by August, and estimated that they had so far gathered more than 20,000 signatures as of Wednesday.
Critics of Alaskans for Better Elections, the group that advocated for the adoption of ranked-choice voting and open primaries in Alaska, say that the group’s funding came primarily from out-of-state groups, including Unite America and FairVote Action Fund, which advocate for voting reform nationwide and are funded by deep-pocketed individuals from outside Alaska. In contrast, Izon and Mathias have said they intend to focus on raising grassroots funds within Alaska for their repeal effort and relying largely on volunteers from across the state.
In February, leaders of the ballot group said Michael Alfaro was working as their “national fundraiser” and had helped secure $500,000 in contributions for the ballot group, including $100,000 from the conservative Heritage Foundation, but no such contributions appeared on the group’s quarterly report in April. Mathias said Wednesday that the Heritage Foundation contribution had not materialized. Alfaro said by phone that he was no longer working with the ballot group.
The complaint was filed on behalf of Alaskans for Better Elections by Anchorage attorney Scott Kendall, one of the primary architects of Alaska’s new voting laws. Kendall said Wednesday that “it was clear from the outset” that the individuals seeking to repeal ranked-choice voting “were having trouble complying with campaign finance law” because they had not filed expenditure reports, which are required to be submitted within 10 days of making an expense, despite obvious campaign activity, and because the Alaska Public Offices Commission had twice fined Alaskans for Honest Elections for compliance violations.
Izon said Wednesday he had not yet paid the fines issued to him by the commission but intended to do so.
Kendall said that when he saw the reported in-kind $200,000 contribution from Izon, he “knew at that point that their books were cooked.”
Mathias called the complaint “a political attack.”
“We’ve been in extensive contact with APOC over the last several months. We’ve addressed all of those concerns that they are raising with APOC. At this point, it’s nothing more than hardball politics,” said Mathias, adding that he expected Alaskans for Better Elections to attempt to stymy their efforts.
“They will file more complaints. They will file lawsuits. They will do anything they can to shoot the messenger,” said Mathias.
Kendall said it is “logical” for political opponents to file campaign finance violation complaints against each other. What’s missing from Mathias’ response, he said, is a defense of their specific actions that would indicate they are not attempting to hide the identity of the financiers of their ballot initiative.