North Slope Borough mayor fined $34K for refusal to file campaign info

JUNEAU -- Blasting North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower's "egregious" conduct and a "glaring lack of cooperation" with its investigation, Alaska's top elections regulator slapped her with a $34,460 fine, along with an assessment for costs it said were driven up by that lack of assistance.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission hit Brower with the unusually large civil penalty after a months-long investigation into her campaign for re-election to the mayor's post last year.

The fine appears to be the largest ever against a candidate in Alaska, and one of the largest campaign violation penalties ever sought by APOC.

Brower never filed her 2014 end-of-the-year disclosure report, due in January, or ever provided complete information APOC investigators requested.

From what information Brower filed, including bank records in May, APOC concluded Brower had not disclosed $5,000 in contributions, while at the same time another $14,000 in contributions were either over-reported or made outside the campaign's official bank accounts, said Heather Hebdon, the agency campaign disclosure coordinator.

Hebdon detailed for the commission a long series of attempts to obtain the information from campaign representatives that would give the public a more complete picture of how much money was collected, from whom, and how it was spent by the Brower campaign.

"The purpose of our statutes is to ensure open and transparent campaigns and provide the public with information," Hebdon said.

After numerous promises of cooperation and time extensions, APOC issued a subpoena for the records, but that too failed, she said.

Brower's campaign treasurer, her husband Eugene Brower, acknowledged the APOC report on the issue was correct, but said it was the fault of campaign treasurers, including himself.

"I just got sidetracked; a lot of it is my fault," he told the commission.

Eugene Brower himself is a former North Slope Borough mayor.

He repeatedly praised APOC for its work, complimenting its staff on its cooperation and helpfulness. But he wouldn't provide the 2014 information that was due in January and sought repeatedly in the months since.

Commission Chair Kenneth Kirk asked why and expressed his unhappiness.

"In terms of still not completing or fixing a problem, on how long it has taken, this is probably the worst I've seen from a campaign," he said. Some independent groups have been worse, he acknowledged.

The nominal fines for the failures to comply with the disclosure requirements came to more than $170,000, but they are typically substantially reduced. APOC staff recommended a 90 percent reduction, to about $17,000.

Eugene Brower said that was acceptable to the campaign.

But when APOC issued its final order it had doubled the fine to $34,460, along with $510 in reimbursement of costs and and return of $340 in improper campaign contributions. That's an 80 percent reduction, instead of a 90 percent reduction, it noted.

The order cited the case's "extraordinary circumstances" of issuing a penalty while the requested information has still not been provided.

Eugene Brower told the commission he still intends to provide the campaign information.

Charlotte Brower was given 15 days to request a reconsideration by the commission, or 30 days to appeal to Superior Court.

The commission's largest-ever campaign payment came from Pebble mine opponents Bob Gillam, Renewable Resource Coalition and Alaskans for Clean Water, when they settled for $100,000 without a finding of a violation in 2010.

It was followed by a $55,000 fine against Alaska Interstate Construction owner John Ellsworth for campaign contributions to pro-development Republican legislators in 1995. Several other Ellsworth employees also were fined at the same time, for a total of $98,500.

The $34,640 fine for Brower appears to be the third-largest ever payment, based on a review of Alaska Dispatch News archives.

In the 1980s, oil field contractor Veco Corp. settled an APOC complaint about illegal campaign contributions for $28,000, after having originally been fined $72,660.

APOC Executive Director Paul Dauphinais said he had no information readily available about APOC's past fine history, but Brower's case was different from other candidate fines because of her lack of cooperation.

Brower was unavailable for comment Tuesday. Brower's mayoral scheduler refused to take a message for her, and an email message to her office and a phone message left at the Browers' Barrow home were not returned Tuesday.