If the $500 limit on campaigns is illegal, as it has been determined to be by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, then what happens to the proposed fine that the Alaska Public Offices Commission staff is recommending to the commission for the Bronson for Mayor campaign?
Bronson’s treasurer missed a few important deadlines in the APOC financial reporting process, including logging one $500 donation into the 2021 year, when it should have been logged into the 2020 year. That donation was made at 11:16 pm on Dec. 31, 2020 but was recorded on Jan. 1 because of a difference in time zones on a computer.
Mistakes like that can be costly. The fine can be $500 a day, which is how the Bronson campaign ended up with a proposed fine from the APOC staff of $39,600. The commission itself makes the final call, and often reduces the fines proposed by staff.
But in the meantime, the Ninth Circuit Court threw out the $500 limit altogether last week, saying Alaska’s law is unconstitutional.
That leaves the possible fine from APOC against the Bronson campaign in limbo.
Normally, the commission reduces fines by as much as 90 percent of what could potentially be levied against a campaign, but with this new ruling on constitutionality, should the fine be thrown out entirely since the $500 limit is illegal?
The Bronson campaign thinks any complaint regarding an over-limit contribution should be dismissed by the commission.
“…the Commission cannot assess penalties for a violation of an unconstitutional statute,” the Bronson campaign lawyer wrote in a response to the commission.
APOC staff, responding to complaints from the Forrest Dunbar campaign, found three over-$500-limit contributions that were not returned to the donors in a timely way.
Four other complaints against the Bronson campaign by the Dunbar campaign were recommended for dismissal by the staff of APOC.
“The Bronson campaign acknowledged to the commission that it has some errors in reporting but does not agree they amount to something major and disputes the APOC staff recommendation that the fine not be reduced,” attorney Stacey Stone wrote.
“In doing so, staff asserts that the respondent has a poor reporting history, and therefore is not entitled to any reduction. However, that position does not meet with the spirit of the regulations, ignores pertinent facts, and fails to acknowledge precedent,” she wrote.
“First, the Commission has great discretion with regard to reductions in civil penalties. The pertinent regulation, 2 AAC 50.865, does not say that the Commission ‘shall’ act, but says ‘may’ act in a certain fashion. Specifically, 2 AAC 50.865 provides that the Commission ‘may’ increase the penalty to the maximum if a person has a poor filing history, but in doing so, the Commission must consider several factors. However, in its report, the staff has only considered one of those four factors. In asserting that the respondent has a poor filing history, the staff cites to two penalties. However, one is currently being appealed due to a computer discrepancy that resulted in a one-minute delay, i.e. the report was filed at 12:01 AM. Therefore, respondent contends it is incorrect to base a poor filing history on this one minute delay. Finally, when considering APOC precedent, a reduction of over 90 percent is appropriate, and therefore, the penalty must be reduced to an amount between $396 and $3,960.”
Even if the commission agrees with the staff of APOC about a maximum fine for late reporting, the staff calculations were off, according to Stone, who came up with a discrepancy of about $1,100:
- The year-start report was due on Feb. 16, 2021. The report was late as of Feb. 17, 2021. Feb. 17 through May 17, 2021 is a period of 90 days. The maximum violation totals $4,500.
- The 30-day report was due on March 8, 2021. The report was late as of March 9, 2021. March 9, 2021 through May 17, 2021 is a period of 70 days. The maximum violation totals $3,500.
- The 7-day report was due on March 30, 2021. The report was late as of March 31, 2021. March 31, 2021 through May 17, 2021 is a period of 48 days. The maximum violation totals $24,000.
- The 7-day runoff report was due on May 4, 2021. The report was late of May 5, 2021. May 5, 2021 through May 17, 2021 is a period of 13 days. The maximum violation totals $6,500.
The Bronson campaign has asked that the maximum penalty be reduced from the current $39,600 down to $38,500, and has asked that entire fine to be reduced by 90 percent to $3,850.