Alaska’s campaign finance watchdog on Wednesday denied a request to fast-track a complaint against a group collecting signatures on a petition to repeal Alaska’s ranked choice voting system. A complaint from the architect of the 2020 election reforms accused the repeal group, Alaskans for Honest Elections, of operating out of an Anchorage church and lying to regulators about it.
Anchorage attorney Scott Kendall is the chief creator of the state’s new voting method, which features a nonpartisan primary followed by a ranked choice general election. At the hearing, Kendall accused anti-ranked choice advocates of running a shadow campaign out of an Anchorage church without proper reporting to the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Kendall also accused Wellspring Ministries pastor Art Mathias of lying to campaign regulators when he said at a prior hearing that the faith-based organizations he founded are not engaged in the repeal campaign.
“The reality is, we’ve got a church running a petition signature campaign from within its walls, using its own employees,” Kendall said at Wednesday’s hearing in Anchorage.
Kendall argued it was essential for APOC to hear his complaint promptly, saying that petition signers could be misled by the missing disclosures.
The attorney defending Mathias and other anti-ranked choice advocates, former Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, said Kendall’s complaint was off-base.
“Distortion of facts, twisting of words to bend reality, half-truths, and misrepresentation – that’s what this entire complaint, and what you’ve just heard for about an hour and a half, is all about,” Clarkson told commissioners by phone.
Clarkson said the church itself is not running a campaign. He said the repeal group simply hired a contractor to help gather signatures. The contractor then rented a room in the church, which he said was in line with campaign finance laws.
“They have multiple tenants in that building. They rent space,” Clarkson said. “They typically only charge the cost of maintaining and operating the space that they rent, but they charge rent and they rent space to people.”
Mathias, the pastor, admits that the campaign contractor, Top Fundraising Solutions, LLC, didn’t have a written lease and its owner hasn’t actually paid the agreed-upon $300 monthly rent even though she has already vacated the space.
“She has a check that she has prepared,” he told the commission. “I have not received it yet, but it’s coming.”
Kendall’s complaint also accuses Wellspring of using church employees to work on the anti-ranked choice campaign. He said the church receptionist has handed out petition booklets and gathered contact information.
Clarkson says Wellspring billed Top Fundraising for the receptionist’s time. He says that over the month or so the company used the office, it amounted to roughly half an hour.
The five-member Public Offices Commission voted unanimously to deny fast-tracking the complaint, saying the allegations justify a fuller investigation.
The commission said it would hear the case in February and ordered the petition group, Alaskans for Honest Elections, not to dissolve until all pending campaign finance complaints against it are resolved.
Kendall said it’s a complicated case and he understands the commissioners’ desire for a full investigation.
“We also appreciate the fact that they put a moratorium on the honest elections folks dissolving their entity and trying to evade fines in that way,” Kendall said, adding that he continues to have concerns that petition signers may be misled.
This is the third complaint Kendall has filed against advocates seeking to abolish Alaska’s ranked choice system.
Repeal advocates say they plan to wrap up signature-gathering by the end of the year.