Watchdog agency considers next step for campaign finance complaint against Alaska Gov. Dunleavy

Nonprofits say campaign and independent expenditure group illegally coordinated, a charge the campaign calls ‘baseless’

By: - September 7, 2022 8:00 pm
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) speaks at a May 3, 2022 press conference in Wasilla. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a May press conference in Wasilla. Over the next several days, the staff of the state’s campaign finance watchdog agency could begin investigating a complaint against Gov. Mike Dunleavy and his reelection campaign for alleged violations of campaign finance laws. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Over the next several days, the staff of the state’s campaign finance watchdog agency could begin investigating a complaint against Gov. Mike Dunleavy and his reelection campaign for alleged violations of campaign finance laws. 

Two nonprofits that aim to hold government accountable filed the complaint on Tuesday with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. The complaint cleared its first formal hurdle on Wednesday, when APOC didn’t reject it. The state office has up to seven days from the day the complaint was filed to formally accept it.

“Accepting the complaint says nothing about whether or not the complaint is valid,” said Tom Lucas, campaign disclosure coordinator at APOC. “All it means is that it meets the basic requirements.”

The nonprofits, Alaska Public Interest Research Group and the 907 Initiative, said the Republican Governors Association and Gov. Dunleavy are “engaged in a scheme” to subsidize and coordinate the campaign activities of independent expenditure group A Stronger Alaska with those of Dunleavy’s official campaign committee. Other parties involved in the alleged wrongdoing are Brett Huber and his company Strategic Synergies, the Republican Governors Association and A Stronger Alaska.

Coordination between a candidate or a candidate’s representatives and an independent expenditure group, also known as a “super PAC,” is prohibited by law.

The complaint also asserts that Dunleavy is having state employees and recipients of no-bid state contracts “volunteer” on his campaign instead of using campaign dollars to pay campaign employees, resulting in taxpayer dollars funding a partisan campaign.

The Dunleavy for Governor campaign issued a statement on Wednesday calling the accusations “baseless” and “meant to distract voters from the real issues in Alaska: inflation, public safety, education reform, and economic growth.”

“These attacks are a gross exaggeration of the facts and are entirely inaccurate,” the statement said.

In the statement, the campaign called out Scott Kendall, the attorney representing Alaska Public Interest Research Group and the 907 Initiative in the complaint, for having a record of “attempting to remove the current Governor and vocally opposing his policy initiatives.”

Kendall was chief of staff to Bill Walker when Walker was governor. Walker is an independent who is challenging Dunleavy.

The complaint said Huber was deputy treasurer on Dunleavy’s campaign, an unpaid position, and was simultaneously a paid consultant for A Stronger Alaska, the independent expenditure group. In addition, the complaint said a contract position with the governor allowed Huber “direct and regular contact with Dunleavy” and other senior staff while running A Stronger Alaska. This allowed A Stronger Alaska to coordinate with Dunleavy and his election campaign through Huber, the complaint alleged. 

Huber said he asked the state Department of Law if there was a conflict of interest arising from his contracts with A Stronger Alaska and the state and was told no. Still, he ended his contract with the state on June 1 to avoid the perception of conflict. 

Huber said his actions were not illegal or unethical. 

“I’m very well aware of what the rules and law are as far as coordination and collaboration, so I do nothing with any candidate in the gubernatorial race, because I’m consulting with A Stronger Alaska. That’s the only campaign contract I have. I was not and never had been an employee for the Dunleavy campaign during this election cycle,” Huber said. 

The Alaska Public Interest Research Group and the 907 Initiative want APOC to immediately dissolve A Stronger Alaska and order the donations be returned.

Kendall said the goal is to prevent illegal coordination from happening.

“Right now, the super PAC is sitting on $3 million of anonymous money and if the governor is directly or indirectly able to direct that money – I mean, can you imagine? – is there a bigger violation of everything campaign finance law stands for than that?” Kendall said.

Once the complaint is accepted, Lucas said APOC would send a letter to all the parties named in the complaint letting them know the complaint was filed. They would have 15 days to file an answer.

At the same time, APOC staff have up to 30 days after accepting a complaint “to investigate and file a staff recommendation to the commission on whether or not there is a violation and, if so, what the remedy would be,” Lucas said.

Then the commission could take up the complaint at its next scheduled meeting, which is Dec. 7, or “the commission has within its authority to schedule a special meeting if they feel it’s necessary,” said Lucas.

The complaint against Dunleavy and another by Doyle Holmes against L. Joy Mindiola – both filed Tuesday – were the first two APOC complaints filed this year. Holmes and Mindiola are candidates for the same state House seat.

“I suspect that as things heat up, we’re going to have a few more,” Lucas said.

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Lisa Phu
Lisa Phu

Lisa Phu covers justice, education, and culture for the Alaska Beacon. Previously, she spent eight years as an award-winning journalist, reporting for the Juneau Empire, KTOO Public Media, KSTK, and Wrangell Sentinel. She's also been Public Information Officer for the City and Borough of Juneau, lead facilitator for StoryCorps Alaska based in Utqiagvik, and a teacher in Tanzania and Bhutan. Originally from New York, Lisa is a first generation Chinese American and a mom of two young daughters. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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