Staff at the Alaska Public Offices Commission have advised Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman not to keep soliciting campaign contributions to pay his legal bills, saying that would run afoul of state statute.
Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jack McKenna ruled Dec. 23 that Eastman was eligible to hold public office despite his membership in the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group that had some members and leadership participate in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.
While the Alaska Constitution prohibits legislators from being members of a group that seeks to violently overthrow the U.S. government, McKenna ruled that Eastman “did not have a specific intent to further the Oath Keepers’ unprotected speech or conduct.”
On the same day as McKenna’s ruling, Eastman wrote to the commission about the “novel situation” he faced: His race had still not been certified 45 days after the Nov. 8 general election, and he wanted to keep accepting campaign contributions to help pay his legal bills — but state statute prohibits legislators from soliciting campaign funds more than 45 days after an election.
An appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court in Eastman’s eligibility case would have increased his anticipated legal bills. But this week, Randall Kowalke — the former Mat-Su Assembly member who filed the lawsuit challenging Eastman’s eligibility to hold office — decided not to appeal, saying he did not believe he could win.
Tom Lucas, campaign disclosure coordinator for the Alaska Public Offices Commission, issued an advisory opinion Wednesday in response to Eastman’s request: He could use campaign funds to pay for his legal bills, but there should not be an exception carved out for the “very clear, unambiguous” statute that imposed the 45-day post-election limit on raising more campaign contributions.
In response to a citizen initiative, the Alaska Legislature passed a bill in 1996 that imposed that moratorium. The concern was that an unlimited campaign solicitation window for legislators could increase the risks of corruption and the undue influence of special interest groups, and give an unfair advantage to incumbents in future elections, Lucas said.
Since Alaska’s campaign contribution limits were struck down last year, Eastman had been able to accept unlimited campaign donations from individual donors. Without being able to solicit campaign contributions now, he can still accept donations to a separate legal fund, but as a sitting legislator, the ethics act prohibits him from accepting monetary “gifts” worth $250 or more.
The APOC staff’s advisory opinion is subject to approval of the five-member commission, which is scheduled to hold its next regular meeting in June.
In the meantime, Eastman would be at risk of an official complaint or investigation if he continued soliciting campaign contributions to pay his legal bills. If the commission rejects the advisory opinion, any complaints against Eastman may be dismissed.
Eastman did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Daily News.
Eastman’s online disclosure documents from early November showed that he used his campaign to pay his attorney Joe Miller, a former Republican U.S. Senate candidate, $10,000 in August and $14,711 in September. Candidates have until the start of February to spend from their campaign accounts.
After winning his battle in court, Eastman has continued soliciting donations on his personal website to help defray costs. He has a suggested donation of $249.99, just under the $250 annual gift limit sitting legislators can accept.