Alaska campaign finance watchdog hits ranked choice voting foes with nearly $95K in fines

A man with glasses speaks behind a podium while standing in front of an American flag.
Art Mathias speaks at an Alaskans for Honest Elections event on Feb. 16, 2023, launching a signature drive to repeal Alaska’s new voting system (Elyssa Loughlin/Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska Public Offices Commission has upheld complaints that Anchorage pastor Art Mathias and groups he founded violated multiple campaign laws in their efforts to overturn Alaska’s open primaries and ranked choice voting.

In a decision dated Wednesday, the commission issued civil penalties of $94,610 against Mathias and groups he leads for failing to register, not filing campaign disclosure documents and failing to put “paid for by” identifiers on their videos and other campaign materials.

Mathias, Alaskans for Honest Elections and related organizations are promoting a ballot initiative that would repeal the voting system Alaska voters adopted in 2020. The system features nonpartisan primaries, followed by a general election ballot that gives voters the option to rank up to four candidates.

“The commission agreed with nearly every allegation we raised,” said Anchorage lawyer Scott Kendall, the voting system’s architect, who filed the complaint on behalf of Alaskans for Better Elections, a group defending the state’s voting system from repeal attempts.

The largest component of the commission’s penalty was $45,000, levied against Mathias himself. That’s for routing a $90,000 personal campaign contribution through a church-affiliated nonprofit he leads, and then failing to file reports revealing that he was the true source of the money. 

man with beard and glasses
Anchorage attorney Scott Kendall specializes in election law. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Kendall calls it “money laundering.”

“So that’s obviously a much higher severity than the other allegations, and I think the commission treated it appropriately by sanctioning it at that level,” Kendall said.

Mathias and his attorney, former Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, deny the $90,000 was improperly passed through an intermediary. They argued at an APOC hearing in November that Mathias’s contribution to a church auxiliary group mingled with other contributions, so when the auxiliary donated a similar amount to Alaskans for Honest Elections to aid the repeal campaign, it’s impossible to say whether that money came from Mathias or any specific donor.

Mathias and the anti-ranked choice groups he leads could appeal the commission’s findings in state court. He did not return a message in time for this story.

Nothing the commission did would block a ballot initiative that aims to repeal the voting system. Opponents of ranked choice voting intend to turn in signatures this month to put the question to voters.

“If they gathered enough signatures and they’re valid signatures, it will be on the ballot,” Kendall said.

Also, APOC Thursday dismissed allegations against former U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka and Preserve Democracy, an anti-ranked choice voting group she’s affiliated with.

APOC is expected to rule soon on one other complaint Kendall filed against groups trying to repeal ranked choice voting.

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

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