The Alaska commission governing campaign finance ethics deferred on Wednesday a decision on a complaint filed earlier this month alleging that the Republican Governors Association was illegally spending money in Alaska to support Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s reelection bid.
The Alaska Public Offices Commission deferred a decision on the complaint to the body’s executive director, allowing A Stronger Alaska, the independent expenditure group funded by the RGA, to continue spending money to support Dunleavy before the November election.
But in their ruling Wednesday, which came after two full days of deliberation by the commissioners, the commissioners issued a stark warning to the RGA and A Stronger Alaska, saying they “continue to make expenditures at their own peril.”
In a complaint filed earlier this month, two watchdog organizations — the Alaska Public Interest Research Group and the 907 Initiative — alleged that the RGA had created A Stronger Alaska as a shell entity to allow them to spend money directly in Alaska against state campaign finance law. The RGA reported transferring $3 million to the newly created A Stronger Alaska group in February 2021. But evidence uncovered by the complaint revealed that there was little separation between the RGA and A Stronger Alaska.
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David Rexrode, the executive director of the RGA, is also the top officer of A Stronger Alaska. Erim Canligil, the chief financial officer of the RGA, is the top financial officer of A Stronger Alaska. A Stronger Alaska’s bank statements are under the RGA name. Canligil and Rexrode testified before the commission that they work for A Stronger Alaska on a volunteer basis while on the RGA payroll, and that A Stronger Alaska has no separate phone number or address.
Under Alaska statute, an independent expenditure group must register with the Alaska Public Offices Commission prior to making expenditures in support of or in opposition to a candidate. The Republican Governors Association never registered with the commission. An independent expenditure group is also forbidden from using “a fictitious name” under state statute.
“Failure to follow these laws invites a host of reporting violations under Alaska’s campaign finance laws, once contributions and expenditures are made,” the commissioners wrote in their decision.
A Stronger Alaska has already spent more than $600,000 on campaign mail supporting Dunleavy, including $300,000 reported earlier this week. It still has more than $2 million to spend.
“The evidence before the commission so far shows that Republican Governor’s Association did little to distance itself from A Stronger Alaska,” commissioners wrote, before instructing commission staff to ascertain whether Rexrode had “sole authority to make expenditures for A Stronger Alaska.”
“Mr. Rexrode and Mr. Canligil did little to assuage the Commission’s concern that the Republican Governors Association and its executive committee has ultimate control over A Stronger Alaska’s activities,” commissioners wrote.
The commissioners recognized in their decision that A Stronger Alaska could continue to spend the money in its account without a final decision on the complaint. But commissioners wrote that “if it is later determined that sufficient separation between the two entities does not exist, A Stronger Alaska will continue to make expenditures at its own peril” and that would expose the RGA to “penalties.”
Commission staff, who are now charged with completing the investigation, were not immediately available for questions.
Also on Wednesday, a similar complaint was filed against the RGA by a Michigan watchdog organization for similar activity by the association in the state, accusing a Michigan group of acting as “a front” from the RGA.
Rexrode testified last week that the RGA, which is involved in all 36 gubernatorial races this year, also operates similar state-specific groups in Vermont, New Hampshire, Michigan and Wisconsin, that are also closely linked with the RGA. Campaign finance laws are dictated on a state-by-state basis.
Aubrey Wieber, the executive director of the 907 Initiative, called the commission’s decision “a strong warning to the RGA that they’re being watched and that any action that they take going forward could have massive consequences.”
Attorneys representing A Stronger Alaska and the RGA did not immediately respond to questions about the decision. A spokesperson for Dunleavy’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.
This is the second complaint filed by the two watchdog organizations targeting the pro-Dunleavy group. The first complaint, filed last month, alleged that Dunleavy schemed to use public funds to bankroll his campaign and coordinated with A Stronger Alaska.
After an emergency hearing held earlier this month, the commission ruled it didn’t have enough information to make a decision and ordered its staff to conduct an investigation into the allegations, effectively delaying the outcome until after the Nov. 8 election.
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