Alaska ranked choice voting opponents fined over $94K for campaign ethics violations

Alaska’s campaign ethics commission found that opponents of ranked choice voting violated the state’s campaign ethics laws for months by funneling most of their funding through a tax-exempt church and inaccurately reporting their funding to the state.

In a decision released late Wednesday, the Alaska Public Offices Commission issued more than $94,000 in fines for groups endeavoring to repeal Alaska’s voting system. In another decision released Thursday, the commission dismissed all allegations against Republican former U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka, who had been accused in a separate complaint of using an organization she formed to support the repeal effort in violation of state law.

Former Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, who represents the opponents of ranked choice voting fined by the commission, said they intend to challenge some of the commission’s findings in court. Anchorage Attorney Scott Kendall, a ranked choice voting advocate, filed the complaints on behalf of a group called Alaskans for Better Elections.

The fines come a month before the deadline for opponents of Alaska’s voting system to submit at least 26,000 signatures from voters as they seek to put the question of repealing the state’s open primaries and ranked choice general elections on the 2024 ballot.

The anti-ranked choice group has already collected more than 39,000 signatures according to its tally. In order to appear on the 2024 ballot, the signatures must originate from registered voters across the state. It is up to the lieutenant governor’s office to verify the signatures once they are submitted.

The commission found that in their quest to collect the signatures, which began shortly after the 2022 election, organizers of the ballot initiative did not correctly register their activities with the state, did not report their funding sources and expenditures accurately, did not adequately identify their funding sources on their advertisements and communications, and tried to conceal the true source of their funding by funneling a large chunk of it through a Washington-based church.

[School funding, energy and ranked choice voting: Alaska statewide political stories to watch in 2024]


The commissioners’ final decision came six months after the original complaint was filed in July. Since then, proponents of ranked choice voting have filed additional complaints alleging that the anti-ranked choice groups have continued to violate state laws despite previous complaints and warnings, including by running a paid signature gathering effort from inside a tax-exempt Anchorage church. The opponents of ranked choice voting have also filed a complaint against Alaskans for Better Elections, which has yet to be decided by the commission.

Commissioners found maximum penalties for the violations would amount to more $360,000, but most were significantly reduced. Fines issued by the commission were divided between the ballot group, a church, and a separate entity — all of which had advanced the repeal effort.

The largest fine was reserved for Art Mathias, an Anchorage insurance agent and Christian minister who was found to have funneled $90,000 to the ballot initiative through a church he formed in Washington state.

Commissioners found that Mathias used the Ranked Choice Education Association, a tax-exempt church, “as intermediary” for his funding, and Mathias “was the true source” of a $90,000 contribution to the ballot effort — making him the effort’s largest contributor.

Mathias was fined more than $46,000 for attempting to conceal the source of his contribution and for failing to report his contribution to the state as required by law.

The Ranked Choice Education Association, founded in December 2022, was fined more than $30,000 for its role in concealing the ballot initiative’s funding, failing to provide funding reports to the state, and failing to register with the state.

Clarkson said Mathias and the church would challenge the commission’s findings regarding their actions, and that the church would continue its activities opposing ranked choice voting despite the fines.

The ballot group, called Alaskans for Honest Elections, was fined just over $13,000 for failing to disclose its top funders on a series of YouTube videos and on its website. The group had only $210 in its bank account as of the end of October, the last time it reported its finances to the state. Clarkson said the fine would not impede the group’s signature gathering effort.

Another entity called Alaskans for Honest Government was fined almost $5,000 for its role in advocating for the repeal ballot measure without reporting its finances to the state and providing information on its funding sources.

While the groups are separate, they are all led by two people: Mathias and Phillip Izon. Izon, a Wasilla resident who runs the repeal campaign, serves as the registered agent for Alaskans for Honest Government, the director of Alaskans for Honest Elections, and the director of the Ranked Choice Education Association church.

The respondents have 30 days — until Feb. 2 — to appeal the commission’s decision to Superior Court.

In their decision on the complaint against Tshibaka, commissioners dismissed allegations that she had used an anti-ranked choice voting group she formed after the 2022 election called Preserve Democracy to advocate for the repeal effort without reporting her activities and funding to the state.

The commission decision went against the findings of the commission’s independent staff, which found in its investigation last year that Tshibaka had violated state law by speaking about the ballot measure during a Preserve Democracy event in February. Staff had recommended more than $16,000 in fines for Preserve Democracy.

But the commissioners found that Preserve Democracy’s “website cannot be read only as encouraging Alaskans to take action in support” of the repeal ballot initiative, as the organization also “encourages a variety of actions, including opposing ballot measures to adopt ranked choice voting in other states and working to improve voter turnout.”

The commissioners found that Tshibaka’s “few public statements expressing support” for the ballot measure “do not tie (Preserve Democracy) nearly so tightly to the initiative.”

The decision means that Tshibaka can continue operating her organization without disclosing its funding sources. In a statement on the commission’s decision, Tshibaka called it “a victory for the Constitution.”

Asked if Alaskans for Better Elections would appeal the decision, Kendall said he is still reviewing the commission’s order and hadn’t discussed it with his clients.

“The prior complaint was clearly the more serious allegation and the outcome there was sound,” Kendall said.

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.