Alaska ranked choice voting opponents blame ‘incompetence,’ not subterfuge, for errors in campaign disclosure

a screenshot
Phillip Izon, left, says he made mistakes trying to comply with campaign finance laws. At the hearing, the anti-ranked choice side was represented by Kevin Clarkson, center. (Screenshot of APOC hearing)

Phillip Izon admits he made mistakes — a lot of them — trying to comply with Alaska’s campaign finance disclosure laws.

“I immediately jumped in to try to address those mistakes,” he testified to the Alaska Public Offices Commission. “And I made further mistakes when trying to address those mistakes.”

The commission convened a hearing Thursday to consider allegations that Izon and Anchorage minister Art Mathias violated multiple campaign finance laws as they launched a drive to repeal Alaska’s ranked choice voting system. One of the central allegations is that Mathias created a church subsidiary and used it as a pass-through to conceal a $90,000 political contribution. 

Mathias said he wasn’t trying to conceal the contribution.

“No, I spoke publicly about it,” Mathias said.  “Never an attempt to hide it in any way shape or form.”

Both Mathias and Izon are directors of Alaskans for Honest Elections, the political group that’s trying to get a repeal measure on the ballot next year. 

The church subsidiary is called Ranked Choice Education Association. Mathias is the president and controls the checkbook. Izon and Mathias’s wife are its directors.

Mathias said the church group wasn’t formed to campaign for the repeal of ranked choice voting in Alaska. (That would make it an APOC-regulated group and endanger the ability of its donors to claim tax deductions.) The purpose of RCEA “is to educate Americans,” Mathias said. “And that’s the primary focus. So it was educating of Americans.”

His testimony at the hearing was overshadowed by Izon, who had a lot to say, much of it about his own shortcomings in APOC compliance. 

For one thing, Izon filled out an APOC form called a 15-5, ostensibly to report that the church-based group donated $90,000 to the political group. But in that form, Izon listed Art Mathias as the “true source” of that donation.

Izon told commissioners he was just filling in a blank on a form.

“I had no idea that there was a way to get past it without actually filling it out. I had no idea,” he said.

“And based on what you know, now, is it a true statement?” asked Kevin Clarkson, an attorney representing the anti-ranked choice voting side.

“No, not at all. It’s not accurate,” Izon said, even before Clarkson could finish asking. “I made a mistake. And I’m fully accountable for that.”

Clarkson also asked Izon about another allegation in the case – a donation of $2,395 in cash from the church auxiliary to the political group. Izon said he didn’t know about a campaign finance law capping cash contributions at $100.

He had no sinister intent, Izon said, “just incompetence.”

Clarkson, a former Alaska attorney general, argued that the complaint is exaggerated. Mathias’s $90,000 contribution to the church group was pooled in a bank account with other people’s contributions, so Clarkson argued it’s impossible to say that Mathias was the source of the $90,000 RCEA gave to the political group.

Scott Kendall, the father of Alaska’s ranked choice voting system, isn’t so forgiving. He filed the complaints against Mathias, Izon and the groups they lead. He argued that Mathias and associates violated, among other things, the prohibition on making political contributions using someone else’s name.

“There’s clear intentionality here,” Kendall said. “They formed this organization. They pushed the money through. Mr. Mathias — his own testimony is that he himself approved the checks amounting to $90,000 from RCEA.”

Kendall also asked commissioners to think about the oddity of the cash donation of $2,395. He told them no such cash withdrawal appears in the church group’s bank statements.

“We still, as we sit here, have no idea where that money came from,” Kendall said. “A literal stack of cash, of odd money, that was handed to a campaign — I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.”

Kendall said the ranked choice opponents still have not explained why they created the Ranked Choice Education Association as a church affiliate. 

While tax matters are beyond the scope of the commission, Kendall has suggested the purpose may have been so the donor could get a tax deduction.

Both Mathias and RCEA should be fined $270,000, Kendall argued.

The APOC staff, which advises the commission, upheld much of Kendall’s complaint but suggested much lower fines.

The commissioners said they will provide their written decision within 10 days.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

Previous articleAlaska News Nightly: Thursday, November 16, 2023
Next articleAlaska child care task force releases recommendations to address crisis