Alaska campaign regulators decided Tuesday to fast-track their review of two complaints filed by the re-election campaign for Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott against groups supporting the election of Mike Dunleavy, the Republican candidate for governor.
That means the commissioners with the Alaska Public Offices Commission will have a public hearing on the merits of the complaints Thursday afternoon, instead of weeks from now, to decide whether the groups violated campaign finance laws. The commissioners could have also decided Tuesday to dismiss the complaints, according to Tom Lucas, APOC campaign disclosure coordinator.
APOC is the state agency that regulates campaign finance. It can levy financial penalties for violations.
At a three-and-a-half-hour meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday, Walker-Mallott campaign staff argued for the expedited review of the two complaints with the November general election just over a month away. An Anchorage lawyer for the two groups named in the complaints — the Republican Governors Association and Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy — argued against speeding up the process.
The Republican Governors Association, or the RGA, is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that backs Republican candidates for governor. Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy is an independent expenditure group formed this year that has gotten nearly all of its funding from the RGA, according to APOC reports.
The Walker-Mallott campaign is accusing the RGA of setting up Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy as a "front group" so it appears the ads it's funding originate in Alaska, not Outside, and so it can shield its donors from public disclosure. Also, the campaign says, the RGA reserved $1.5 million worth of ad time in Alaska for the purpose of influencing the state's election, but the organization hasn't registered with APOC as an independent expenditure group and hasn't reported the expenditures, which the campaign says it should have.
"These are some of the largest expenditures in Alaska state election history," Walker-Mallott campaign manager John-Henry Heckendorn told APOC commissioners. "I think that would be a pretty terrible precedent to set — that organizations that come up here and spend money for the purposes of influencing Alaska's elections don't have to play by Alaska's laws."
(Independent expenditure groups can raise unlimited funds from individuals and organizations, but can't coordinate with the campaigns of the candidates they're supporting. The groups must register with APOC and file reports about their finances, including where their money is coming from and how they're spending it.)
In a statement last week, RGA attorney Michael Adams said the facts alleged in the APOC complaint are false.
The Walker-Mallott campaign is also accusing Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy of failing to properly register and file reports with APOC. The campaign says the RGA transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars of ad time to the independent expenditure group, but the group hasn't reported any in-kind contributions from the RGA.
Stacey Stone, the Anchorage attorney representing Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy and the RGA on Tuesday, said the Walker-Mallott campaign hadn't provided substantial evidence to support expediting the complaints, as required by state law. The alleged violation involving the RGA also happened nearly six months ago, she said in a filing with APOC, and the campaign has "sat on its rights."
"The reason not to rush this is, again as I said, while Walker-Mallott may want to take away the due process of those who are against it because they feel like they're running from behind, there's a substantial and fundamental fairness that's required for due process — it's the notice and the opportunity to be heard," Stone told commissioners.
APOC chairwoman Anne Helzer announced Tuesday after a closed-door executive session that the commissioners would expedite their review of the two complaints. She did not go into details about why. According to state law, when the commission is deciding whether to expedite a complaint, it will consider factors such as whether the alleged violation could affect the outcome of an election "if not immediately restrained," whether the alleged violation could cause "irreparable harm" and whether there was reasonable cause to believe a violation had occurred.
The hearing was set for 1:15 p.m. Thursday at APOC's Anchorage office.
The Walker-Mallott campaign filed another complaint last week against the RGA, but didn't request expedited review. The complaint stemmed from activities during the 2014 campaign season.
APOC commissioners recently decided to expedite the review of a complaint brought by Stand for Alaska-Vote No on One against three groups supporting the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative. There was a hearing last week and commissioners are expected to issue a ruling Wednesday.