ANCHORAGE (KTUU) Wednesday, 4:40 p.m. UPDATE:
Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, talks with Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, during a 2016 floor session.
The Alaska Public Offices Commission has voted 4-0 to side with a staff recommendation that "Gabby's Tuesday PAC" did not violate state law by receiving cash donated by lobbyists.
Lobbyists bankrolling a political action committee run by a sitting state lawmaker, an unconventional approach to financing campaigns that started happening this year, is not a violation of state law, according to an Alaska Public Offices Commission staff opinion released Monday.
The finding comes as part of an expedited review prompted by the Alaska Democratic Party's complaint against a group run by Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage. APOC commissioners have 10 days to approve or reject the staff recommendations.
"Gabby's Tuesday PAC" raised $7,850 and donated the cash to 11 legislative candidates in the weeks leading to the August primary election to help elect what LeDoux sees as "common sense conservatives."
While the total income is insignificant compared to the cost of running for a seat in the Legislature, the source of the cash is at the core of the complaint which alleges wrongdoing on three fronts centered around the fact that several lobbyists who live outside of LeDoux's district contributed $500 apiece.
According to the complaint, that means the longtime lawmaker illegally accepted contributions from lobbyists, took contributions in excess of statutory limits, and made prohibited contributions to other candidates"
Alaska law allows paid lobbyists to contribute to legislative campaigns but only to candidates running in their own district. The rule is part of a broader effort to prevent elected officials from making decisions benefiting special interest groups represented by lobbyists in exchange for financial benefits, including cash to seek re-election.
"Lobbyists who live outside of her district should not be able to contribute to this PAC. This PAC should not be able to give donations to other candidates, which is prohibited under the statute, and individuals should not be able to give twice to her candidacy," Kay Brown, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party, said in an interview. "It would lead to even greater special interest influence in the Capitol."
Heather Hebdon, APOC's acting executive director, summed up the allegations like this: "Claimant alleges that because Representative LeDoux is a candidate and because she directly controls the activities of Gabby's Tuesday PAC, then the activities of the two are automatically synonymous for purposes of contribution limits and restrictions," she said in a Monday meeting. "This is simply incorrect."
(The political financing oversight agency told LeDoux her group appeared to be acting within the law before the PAC launched this summer.)
As Hebdon interprets state law and past APOC advisory opinions, LeDoux the lawmaker and candidate can have a campaign group dedicated to her re-election, and LeDoux the private citizen can run a separate group that attempts to accomplish other things, such as helping elect other legislative candidates.
Stacey Stone, an attorney hired to represent Gabby's Tuesday PAC, told commissioners in a Monday hearing that the group fully complies with those rules: "It does not donate to Representative LeDoux's campaign committee," she said. "It does not expend funds to support Representative LeDoux's re-election campaign. It is not involved in her re-election to the state House in any way."
If the the five-member commission sides with the legal argument presented by its own staff and the lawmaker's attorney, similar groups could form immediately in the final days leading to the general election.
And while the this model of funding political campaigns now seems unconventional, it may quickly proliferate if affirmed as legal: a corporation or special interest group paying a lobbyist, the lobbyist funneling cash into PACs run by a state lawmaker, and finally that lawmaker sending maximum legal donations to political allies.