ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — Two pro-Dunleavy independent expenditure groups violated state campaign finance laws, by reserving ad time with the purpose of influencing the gubernatorial election without registering as independent expenditure groups, according to a ruling by the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
The APOC ruling says that in April, the Republican Governors Association issued a press release announcing the reservation of $1.5 million worth of ad time in Alaska, and millions more in Minnesota and Connecticut, described by the RGA as "top pick-up opportunities for Republicans," and that the ad buys constituted "just the beginning of GOP efforts to win these governorships."
APOC's report says that the Washington, D.C.-based RGA has not registered with APOC as an independent expenditure group in violation of AS 15.13.050(a), which requires the registration of groups or persons making expenditures in support of or in opposition to a candidate before any expenditure is made.
The source of a campaign’s money can be important because it discloses who — or what — is trying to manipulate voters. While federal law allows unlimited expenditures by super PACs, like the Republican Governors Association, as long as the group doesn’t coordinate its activities with the campaign it’s supporting, state law has tough disclosure requirements of money sources. That state law is enforced by APOC.
Meanwhile, Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy, a super PAC or independent expenditure group funded by RGA, first registered with APOC in June. In August, RGA's ad buys were transferred in name to FFAF, making the latter the sole advertiser.
In September, two complaints filed by Walker Mallott for Alaska claimed that RGA and FFAF violated Alaska law by reserving ad time for the purpose of influencing the gubernatorial election without first registering with APOC in accordance with state law.
The second complaint alleged that Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy broke the law by "filing inaccurate reports that did not disclose the expenditures that it made reserving advertising time and the contributions that it received of reserved advertising time from the RGA."
APOC took up the complaints last week, granting an expedited consideration, considering in part whether or not the violations could affect the outcome of an election if not restricted.
RGA argued the complaint on two main fronts: first, that the ad reservations placed under its name by Pinpoint Media — an Alexandria, VA-based media-buying agency used by RGA to reserve ad time — did not count as expenditures because RGA claims it did not pay for the ad time, and thus the ad time could have been canceled.
On the second front, RGA argued that it did not have to register with APOC as it is not a "group" as defined by Alaska statute governing state election campaigns.
APOC released its ruling Tuesday, finding in favor of the Walker Mallott For Alaska campaign's complaint. In its ruling, APOC found that whether or not RGA paid for the ad time is irrelevant; that the reservation of ad time constitutes a promise or agreement for a transfer of value between two parties, and that the reservation in itself has value and thus is an expenditure under state law.
APOC further found that whether RGA is considered a group or not is also irrelevant, as the statute is applied independently of whether or not RGA is defined as a "group" under state law. Moreover, "AS 15.13.050(a) requires 'each person other than an individual' to register before making expenditures, and the RGA is a person other than an individual regardless of whether it meets the definition of 'group.' "
Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy was also found to have violated the same law for making campaign expenditures prior to registering as a group, as well as violating a statute requiring accurate reports of expenditures, as it failed to report contributions and expenditures for media ad reservations during the same period.
The monetary penalty for the violations by both entity each came to $8,900, but those penalties were reduced by half, citing "the respondents' status as inexperienced filers," as a mitigating factor.
The more substantial regulatory mechanism in the ruling is the requirement that RGA comply with Alaska state law by registering with APOC.
Families for Alaska's Future — Dunleavy was also ordered to file "accurate independent expenditure reports" as among the remedies outlined by APOC.
Richard Mauer contributed to this developing story.