Two independent political groups tied to Gov. Bill Walker's deputy chief of staff violated Alaska campaign laws by taking steps that kept the identities of contributors secret, according to an agreement up for approval by the Alaska Public Offices Commission next week in Anchorage.
The agreement between APOC staff and the groups recommends a fine of $6,370 for Your Future Alaska and $1,338 for Alaskans First for violating campaign finance law. The violations occurred as they raised money on behalf of Walker and Democratic candidates in the fall of 2014. As independent groups, they didn't coordinate their efforts with Walker's or other official campaigns.
The groups were involved in an illegal "pass-through technique" that obscured the actual funding sources to Your Future Alaska, the agreement says.
"Your Future Alaska, though perhaps unintentionally, acted as an intermediary to pass contributions from one person to another without disclosing the funding's original source," the agreement says.
The reference to "persons" stems from the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision under which both people and corporations are considered "persons" for the purpose of making campaign contributions. Both Your Future Alaska and Alaskans First were registered as nonprofit political corporations that sought to influence the 2014 statewide general election.
The contributors to Your Future Alaska were philanthropist and former grocer Barney Gottstein, who gave $50,000; Bristol Bay Native Corp., which gave $20,000; and Ahtna Inc., which gave $5,000.
The independent political groups together could have been fined as much as $86,000, the agreement said.
But APOC almost never fines to the maximum. In this case, the agreement said, mitigating circumstances allowed for reduced fines, including that the groups' officers were "inexperienced filers." Also, the undisclosed contributions to the groups amounted to less than $100,000, a small percentage compared to the $3.2 million raised and spent by the top two campaigns in the governor's race.
The agreement was signed in late December by APOC staff and the groups' attorney, Thomas Amodio. It must be approved by the five-person commission, and is scheduled to be presented at the commission's next meeting Feb. 10.
Among the corporations' officers were Marcia Davis, who served as secretary and treasurer until May 2015, the agreement said. She registered the groups as state nonprofit corporations in May 2014, records show.
Davis, Walker's deputy chief of staff, told a reporter on Tuesday that she left the group in November 2014. A follow-up message asking Davis what day in November 2014 she left the group was not returned.
Davis said she had no involvement in the creation of the consent agreement.
"I did not review or approve the fact statement (in the agreement) so don't know what it says," she said.
Davis filed an independent expenditure report with APOC on behalf of Your Future Alaska on Nov. 24, 2014, according to APOC records included as backup materials to the agreement.
The penalties against Your Future Alaska began accruing that same day, according to the agreement.
Davis, an attorney, had previously said that Your Future Alaska received legal counsel and followed state and federal law as the group became involved in the gubernatorial campaign. The group also consulted with APOC and followed its rules, only to be told after the fact that it should have disclosed its donors' identities, she said.
Davis on Tuesday referred calls to April Ferguson, who, according to the complaint, was president of the groups until May 2015.
Ferguson is senior vice president and general counsel at Bristol Bay Native Corp., one of the undisclosed donors to Your Future Alaska.
Ferguson did not respond to phone calls and texts attempting to reach her for comment.
Katie Marquette, a spokeswoman for Walker, said the governor's office won't take any action as a result of the settlement. "While the timing of the filing was late and a fine has been levied, APOC's Consent Agreement went on to say that the contributions made by Your Future Alaska and Alaskans First were permissible, as was the activity both entities engaged in; therefore, we consider the matter closed," Marquette said.
Your Future Alaska registered with APOC in October 2014, one week before the Nov. 4 general election. It gave $21,000 to Alaskans First, which had registered with APOC in July. That money went to support Clare Ross, a Democratic candidate who lost a race for a state Senate seat, and other general election candidates.
Your Future Alaska also gave $50,000 to Walker Mallott 1, another political group that also operated independently of Walker's campaign. Alaskans First and Walker Mallott 1 had "significant ties" to Your Future Alaska, "including common officers and directors," the agreement says.
Your Future Alaska should have registered with APOC before it made expenditures, but it did not do so, violating registration requirements, the agreement says.
Your Future Alaska maintains it was not required to disclose its funding sources because it's a corporation and could determine how to spend its money, the agreement said. However, Your Future Alaska is unlike other corporations, because its purpose was to influence elections, and money raised is a contribution from sources who must be reported, according to the agreement.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing