The minority leader of the State House has agreed to pay a major fine for mismanaging campaign funds.
Rep. Chris Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, acknowledged that he mixed up his campaign contributions with his personal savings and failed to make accurate and timely disclosures.
The consent agreement signed by Tuck and the Alaska Public Offices Commission describes a rat’s nest of accounting problems. It starts with a 2012 fundraiser at the Firetap restaurant that Tuck didn’t report as a contribution. That kicked off a process where APOC found that Tuck managed his campaign money as a section of his personal banking account. Over the past two election cycles, more than $16,000 “flowed” through his personal account, and more than $11,000 in campaign money had been used for personal expenditures.
According to the report, there were “so many errors that it is beyond the expertise of APOC staff” to “untangle” them.
Paralegal Delight Mells told the commission as much at their Wednesday meeting.
“Given the complexity of the issues compounded by the banking errors that resulted in the use of at least three different bank accounts, and the extensive time that has already been dedicated, the parties believe that this consent agreement is the most efficient means to resolving the violations and moving forward,” said Mells.
While the maximum penalty for the violations exceeded $700,000, the Commission agreed to a fine of $14,000 in an effort to match the proportionate harm to the public. Tuck is also required to forfeit $6,000 of leftover campaign funds and to correct his old financial disclosure reports. The Commission also acknowledged that Tuck took “great efforts” to deal with the reporting problems once they were brought to light.
Tuck says the errors were unintentional – that they were the result of sloppy accounting and not anything deliberate. For example, he says campaign funds went toward personal expenditures because he mixed up his debit cards, and that he tried to repay that money immediately.
Tuck wishes he’d been more careful.
“There was some mistakes there that, yes, they did happen,” says Tuck. “And I regret that they happened. I understand what I did. I’m sorry for making those mistakes.”
But Tuck also thinks that a $14,000 fine is too high. He says he alerted APOC to some of the errors mentioned in the consent agreement, and that the public wouldn’t be aware of them if he hadn’t been cooperative. He’s concerned that a fine of this size might prevent candidates from self-reporting if they bungle their records, and that it could potentially discourage people from running for public office.
Tuck says he would have taken the case to court, if he had the time and money.
“This is one of the toughest things I have ever gone through,” says Tuck. “I’ve gone through divorce and a custody battle, and this is right up there with that.”
Tuck is running for a fourth term in the State Legislature, and his race is uncontested. He says from here on out, he’ll have an accountant manage his books.