The Alaska Public Offices Commission has decided that the group trying to repeal ranked-choice voting in Alaska illegally moved money through a church in Washington State called the Ranked Choice Education Association.
According to APOC, Art Mathias, who is the leader of Alaskans for Honest Elections, sent some $90,000 to the Ranked Choice Education Association, which is registered as a church in Washington state, and some of that money then came back to Alaskans for Honest Elections as a contribution.
Another group, called Alaskans for Better Elections, which is responsible for bringing open primaries and ranked-choice general elections to Alaska, filed an extensive complaint with APOC about the efforts of Alaskans for Honest Elections, which is trying to undo the new voting method.
One of the key points of the complaint is that Matthias moved his money to a nonprofit church so that he could reap a tax benefit, knowing full well the church, which he controlled, would move the money to Alaskans for Honest Elections, which has no tax exemption from the IRS.
Kevin Clarkson, an attorney for Alaskans for Honest Elections, said the group will appeal the decision.
“The Respondents disagree in large part with the APOC staff’s conclusions and will file a response to the report within the deadline,” Clarkson wrote.
“With respect to the alleged donation in the name of another, APOC staff has (1) improperly charged Ranked Choice Education Association with a violation of the statute despite the fact that RCEA gave its donations to Alaskans for Honest Elections in its own name; (2) improperly double charged and fined both RCEA and Mr. Matthias with violations of the statute (AS 15.13.074(b)) as if there were two donations to AHE—one totaling $79,000 and another totaling $90,000–when there was only one set of donations going to AHE totaling about $79,000; (3) improperly charged Mr. Matthias with violating the statute for giving $90,000 to RCEA despite the fact that he made that perfectly legal donation in his own name—the point should have been only the $79,000 that went from RCEA to AHE in RCEA’s name; (4) has misapplied the statute—designed to prevent contributors from violating limitations and prohibitions of the campaign finance laws, like donation limits (think the old $500 limit) or donor prohibitions (think labor unions or lobbyists who aren’t permitted to donate)—to a situation where no limitation or prohibition was circumvented (Mr. Matthias could have legally given all the money to AHE himself, he announced publicly that he was giving the money, and RCEA even reported that Matthias was the “true source” of the $79,000); and (5) has applied the law in a way that violates the First Amendment. All non-profits (like RCEA or the Alaskans for Better Elections Foundation) raise their funds through donations and then they donate to the ballot groups they support (like AHE or ABE),” Clarkson wrote.
“The staff has made it impossible for a non-profit to make contributions to a ballot group without subjecting their donors to charges of donating in the name of another. For example, on June 26, 2023, ABEF [Alaskans for Better Elections Foundation] contributed $20,000 to ABE [Alaskans for Better Elections]. Does that mean that ABEF’s donors gave to ABE illegally in the name of ABEF rather than in their own names?” Clarkson wrote.
The matter appears to have First Amendment aspects to it, although Clarkson did not raise that in his explanation.
The staff of APOC will take their recommendations of fines to the commission, which makes the final decision. The staff says Alaskans for Honest Elections should be fined over $10,000, and that Alaskans for Honest Government should be fined over $3,000 for related violations relating to the group’s support for the repeal of ranked-choice voting. The staff recommends that Mathias and his Washington church be fined a combined total of $42,500.
Alaskans for Honest Elections is in the process of gathering some 26,000 signatures to put the repeal of the ranked choice voting method on the ballot in 2024. It has until early next year to turn in the signatures to the Division of Elections.