Alaska campaign regulators will hear complaint against pro-Dunleavy group before election

A man in a grey suit speaking at a podium.
Governor Mike Dunleavy at the Governor’s Debate on Resource Development on Tuesday, October 11, 2022 at the Egan Center. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska Public Offices Commission will act before the election to hear a campaign finance complaint against incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy and backers of his re-election bid, the commission ruled Wednesday.

In a hearing that begins at 1 p.m. Friday, the state’s campaign finance regulator will hear evidence for and against the complaint, which alleges Dunleavy’s campaign illegally coordinated with a third-party group called A Stronger Alaska by having Brett Huber simultaneously serve in both Dunleavy’s campaign and A Stronger Alaska. 

“The public at large has a compelling need to know whether coordination occurs or continues to occur related to A Stronger Alaska and its forthcoming expenditures,” said Anne Helzer, chair of the commission.

Alaska Public Offices Commission remote meeting
In this screenshot from an online video stream on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022, the commissioners of the Alaska Public Offices Commission consider whether to grant an expedited hearing request for a complaint against a group supporting the re-election of Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy. (Screenshot)

Helzer spoke after the five members of the commission heard arguments for and against expedited consideration of the complaint. Had they decided against a speedy hearing, it would not have been considered until after the election.

It was not immediately clear on Wednesday when the commission will rule on the merits of the complaint.

A Stronger Alaska is funded by the national Republican Governors Association, which has already allocated at least $3 million to support Dunleavy’s re-election. State law prohibits third-party groups from coordinating with campaigns.

A ruling in favor of the RGA and Dunleavy’s campaign would clear the way for A Stronger Alaska to spend its money on the election in the last month before Alaskans vote on Nov. 8.

If commissioners rule against the groups, they could force A Stronger Alaska to pause its spending until it takes additional action, such as disbanding the group, refunding contributions and then re-forming the group.

That process could be done quickly enough to allow spending before the election, but it would require the Republican Governors Association to disclose the donors behind the $3 million it gave to A Stronger Alaska.

Currently, those donors are hidden because the RGA gave to A Stronger Alaska before Ballot Measure 2 took effect in February 2021. That measure requires third-party groups to disclose the true source of money behind their income.

In an extreme case, A Stronger Alaska could dissolve permanently. That was the result in September, when a complaint was filed against a third-party group backing Anchorage Democratic Rep. Harriet Drummond. Drummond’s husband was listed as a deputy treasurer for the group. After the complaint was filed, the group dissolved, donors were refunded, and the group has not been re-created.

The complaint against A Stronger Alaska was filed in September by the Alaska Public Interest Research Group and the 907 Initiative, a pair of nonprofits.

At the heart of their complaint is the role of Brett Huber, a former Dunleavy adviser.

On May 31, the Anchorage Daily News published an article revealing that Huber had been awarded a no-bid contract by the governor’s office while simultaneously serving as a deputy treasurer of Dunleavy’s re-election campaign and the third-party group A Stronger Alaska.

Huber said at the time that he had not done any work for the governor’s campaign since being hired by the third-party group.

Attorney Richard Moses, representing A Stronger Alaska, said on Wednesday that Huber’s listing as a deputy treasurer for the governor’s campaign was “an oversight on some paperwork.”

“It was completely unintentional and completely unknowing,” Moses said.

Asked whether a law can be violated by mistake, Moses said, “It depends on the law.”

Attorney Tom Amodio, representing the Dunleavy campaign, said on Wednesday that in order for there to be a violation of the law, there has to be cooperation and coordination in the expenditure of funds and that the complainants haven’t demonstrated that.

Scott Kendall
In this screenshot from an online video stream on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022, attorney Scott Kendall urges the Alaska Public Offices Commission to grant an expedited hearing for a complaint against a group supporting the re-election of Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy. (Screenshot)

Scott Kendall is the attorney representing the complainants and said after Wednesday’s hearing that he intends to demonstrate that on Friday.

“The public at large has a compelling need to know,” he said.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.

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