State report: Anti-ranked choice voting organization violated state law

Alaska’s political watchdog agency found that an organization founded by former U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka violated state campaign ethics regulations by advocating for an anti-ranked choice voting ballot measure seeking to overturn the state’s new voting laws without registering with the state and publicly reporting its spending.

Tshibaka, who ran last year for U.S. Senate as a right-wing Republican, founded Preserve Democracy shortly after losing the election to incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Tshibaka has said the organization was meant to educate voters nationwide about what she said were the detriments of ranked-choice voting, and is not advocating for a separate Alaska-based effort to repeal ranked-choice voting and open primaries.

Tshibaka has contended that her group is separate from the ballot initiative launched shortly after the 2022 election by several Alaska Republicans seeking to overturn Alaska’s new voting system. But staff of the Alaska Public Offices Commission found that Preserve Democracy’s website and comments made by Tshibaka were meant to encourage people to sign the ballot initiative. They found that the timing of the creation of both the organization and its website — soon after the ballot group was formed — supported the idea that part of the organization’s goal was to support the ballot measure.

Preserve Democracy’s “website was an express communication from the date of creation through February 27, 2023, because under all the circumstances it was susceptible of no other reasonable interpretation but as an exhortation to support the (ballot initiative) petition,” staff wrote in the report.

After Feb. 27, Preserve Democracy’s website was changed from focusing on Alaska’s voting methods to a broader message purporting to appeal to audiences nationwide.

[As ranked choice voting gains momentum, parties in power push back]

The staff report, which now goes to the full commission, could mean that Preserve Democracy will be required to register with the state and report its funding sources and expenditures. Until now, the organization’s funding has remained opaque, because it was founded as a nonprofit corporation, allowing it to conceal its donors and the ways it has spent its funds.


The commission staff’s findings came after a pro-ranked choice voting organization, Alaskans for Better Elections, filed last month a complaint against Tshibaka, Preserve Democracy, and other opponents of Alaska’s new voting system.

After a six-week investigation, commission staff agreed with some of the allegations brought forward by Alaskans for Better Elections, while dismissing others. Commission staff found that there wasn’t evidence to support allegations that Tshibaka had illegally lobbied legislators to repeal ranked-choice voting without registering as a lobbyist, nor that a municipal get-out-the-vote campaign conducted by Preserve Democracy had illegally targeted Republican voters while leaving out moderate and left-leaning voters.

Tshibaka contended in a response to the complaint that her actions “are the free exercise of speech, protected by the First Amendment, and do not trigger any reporting or registration obligations.”

In a response submitted by attorney Matthew Singer, who is representing Tshibaka, he wrote that the commission “should not be used as a tool to silence debate on important political topics.”

Tshibaka attested in an affidavit that she is unpaid for her work as the chief executive of Preserve Democracy. Tshibaka held federal government positions before taking a job in the administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy in 2019. She then campaigned full time for more than a year leading up to the 2022 election, and has not taken a government job since then. Her husband, Niki Tshibaka, resigned as director of Human Resources for the Anchorage Municipality earlier this year. They live in Anchorage with their five children.

In a phone interview, Singer said he hoped that despite the staff report, the commissioners would determine that Tshibaka had not violated the law and would not require Preserve Democracy to share its funding sources.

“The next step if the commission gets it wrong would be to appeal matter to the Superior Court and the state supreme court if necessary,” Singer said.

Scott Kendall, ranked choice voting advocate who filed the original complaint against Tshibaka and Preserve Democracy, said that “if they choose to appeal or cause delay by appeal, it’s possible the public will be denied this information for a period of time.”

The commission staff is still investigating allegations in a separate complaint filed by Alaskans for Better Elections against the leaders of the ballot initiative seeking to repeal the state’s voting system. Those allegations contend that ballot measure leaders illegally formed a Washington state-based church to funnel tax-free dollars toward their efforts to repeal Alaska’s voting laws.

[Complaint alleges opponents of Alaska’s ranked choice voting formed church to skirt disclosure laws]

Former Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, who is representing the respondents in the complaints — including ballot group Alaskans for Honest Elections and its leaders Phillip Izon and Art Mathias — said in his response to the original complaint that the ballot group’s errors were “minor” and called the allegations an “attempt to make much ado about very little.”

Staff found that the total potential fines for Preserve Democracy for failing to report its funding and spending were more than $45,000. But staff recommended reducing the total fine to $16,450 because of an “absence of aggravating factors” and because “the maximum civil penalty exceeds the value of transactions that should have been reported.”

It is up to the public offices commissioners to determine the final penalties and actions taken. The commissioners are set to meet next on Sept. 28, by which time the commission staff is expected to complete its investigation of alleged violations by other opponents of ranked choice voting.

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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.