Dunleavy accused of using state funds to pay campaign staffers and violating campaign finance rules

a man in a suit on a the phone with a camera in front of him
Governor Mike Dunleavy answers the speaker on the phone about waiting for election results at Dunleavy’s main headquarters on Fairbanks Street on Aug. 16, 2022. (Mizelle Mayo/Alaska Public Media)

A nonpartisan watchdog group says Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s re-election campaign is coordinating with a super PAC working to get him elected. The Alaska Public Research Interest Group and a new organization called 907 Initiative filed the complaint on Tuesday with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. 

The complaint also alleges that the Dunleavy administration is using taxpayer funds to pay campaign staffers, a violation of the state’s Executive Branch Ethics Act.

The complaint centers on two longtime Dunleavy staffers: Brett Huber and Jordan Shilling. It says earlier this year Huber simultaneously worked as a deputy treasurer on Dunleavy’s campaign and managed activities for a Dunleavy-focused super PAC called A Stronger Alaska. That kind of crossover is considered illegal coordination under APOC statute. 

“The public has no idea whose money this is,” AKPIRG attorney Scott Kendall said Tuesday. “And the ability to prevent corruption is gone, because not only will this be anonymous money, but it’s anonymous money that the governor directly or indirectly gets to say how it’s spent. Campaign finance law at that point means nothing.”

Kendall previously worked as Independent Gov. Bill Walker’s chief of staff. Walker, Democrat Les Gara and Republican Charlie Pierce are running against Dunleavy for governor.

In addition to his work on Dunleavy’s campaign and the pro-Dunleavy PAC, Huber was also a state contractor in the governor’s office earning more than $8,000 a month as a consultant on “statehood defense,” according to copies of his contract documents included in AKPIRG’s complaint.

Shilling, who claims to work as an unpaid volunteer on the campaign, also has a state contract for $10,000 a month to consult on renewable energy policy. 

In an email on Tuesday, Dunleavy spokesperson Jeff Turner said that Huber ended his contract on June 1 but Shilling’s is still in effect. Turner said he did not have information about why Huber ended his contract.

Dunleavy’s campaign said in a statement Wednesday that the allegations are a “gross exaggeration of the facts and are entirely inaccurate,” but did not elaborate. The statement specifically called out Kendall, who previously worked on a campaign to recall Dunleavy from office, for “distract[ing] voters from the real issues in Alaska.”

Dunleavy’s campaign finance disclosures show he has only spent $6,200 paying campaign staff this election cycle, the complaint says. By comparison, his 2018 campaign for governor spent more than $50,000 on staff contracting and consulting fees. 

Kendall is suspicious of both contracts. He said they look like they were set up to pay for campaign work using taxpayer money because they don’t appear to have a clear purpose.

“Where’s the deliverable? What are the list of meetings you took? Where are the memos you wrote? You can’t collect $10,000 just hanging out,” he said. 

AKPIRG executive director Veri di Suvero said the group plans to submit an ethics complaint to the Alaska State Personnel Board in the next week alleging misuse of public funds. In the meantime, the group hopes the Alaska Public Offices Commission will take action before November on the allegation that the super PAC coordinated with the Dunleavy campaign. That could include dissolving the super PAC or putting a freeze on its activities.

This story has been updated with a response from Dunleavy’s campaign.

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Kavitha George is the host of Alaska Morning News at Alaska Public Media. She also reports on business, labor and the economy. Reach her at kgeorge@alaskapublic.org.