[Update: The public relations company SoundSpeedPR, representing Equal Citizens, has demanded that Must Read Alaska take this story down from our web site because the company has not given MRAK permission to write about it. – SD)
A well-funded election group with strong ties to the Democratic Party filed a complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission against two Alaska “independent expenditure” groups who participated in the 2016 election cycle.
One of the groups was run by a laborers union boss in Anchorage.
The other was run by a 92-year-old Fairbanks woman who has been recovering from a broken hip.
“Equal Citizens,” the group behind the APOC complaint, may have picked the wrong fight.
Kathleen “Mike” Dalton, the 92-year-old chair who is on a cane in Fairbanks, said, “There’s nothing I like better than a political battle.”
The Alaska Public Offices Commission staff has ruled against Equal Citizens, which used Anchorage lawyers from the offices of Davis Wright Tremaine to file complaints against “Interior Voters for John Coghill” and “Working Families of Alaska.”
The official complainants in the matter had to be Alaskans, so the group rounded up Donna Patrick of Fairbanks, John Lambert of Ester, and James Barnett, of Anchorage — all registered Democrats — to sign their names.
WHO ARE INTERIOR VOTERS FOR COGHILL?
Interior Voters for John Coghill was a group supported in large part by The Accountability Project, whose head is Scott Hawkins, now a candidate for governor. Chairwoman Mike Dalton is a longtime political activist with a take-no-prisoners view of politics.
The Accountability Project put $47,000 into Interior Voters for John Coghill, and Hawkins put in $2,500 of his own money. The Interior Voters attacked the political track record of Coghill’s opponent, Democrat Luke Hopkins, in the 2016 general election.
There were a dozen other smaller donations to the group, which spent $50,000 to help Coghill, a Republican, fend off a fierce challenge from a popular former mayor.
WORKING FAMILIES OF ALASKA — LOOK FOR THE UNION LABEL
Working Families of Alaska is an independent expenditure group of the Laborers Local 341, with Business Manager Joey Merrick as its chairman.
Top contributors were the Laborers Political League Education Fund of Washington, D.C. and Local Laborers 341.
Working Families of Alaska endeavored to elect AFL-CIO president Vince Beltrami to the Senate over incumbent Sen. Cathy Giessel, and to re-elect Fairbanks Rep. Adam Wool.
It spent over $70,000, and Wool was re-elected, while Beltrami lost to Giessel, due in part due to the counterbalancing efforts of Hawkins’ independent expenditure group, The Accountability Project.
WHERE DOES ‘CITIZENS UNITED’ FIT IN?
“Citizens United” was a landmark case that went to the Supreme Court, which eight years ago decided that Americans are entitled to form up independent groups and participate in campaigning on behalf of candidates, so long as they do not coordinate with the candidates’ actual campaigns.
Citizens United sought an injunction against the Federal Election Commission to prevent the agency from blocking its distribution of the film, Hillary: The Movie, which expressed the opinion that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton would not make a good president. Citizens United won.
Just as federal law overrides state law in matters pertaining to abortion (Roe v. Wade), the Citizens United decision is settled law that makes it a federal violation for Alaska to enforce its donation limits that are still on the state statutes.
WHO IS BEHIND THE COMPLAINT TO APOC?
The force behind the complaint to APOC is a group called “Equal Citizens,” which is run by a group that is also trying to dismantle the Electoral College System.
The group, according to Federal Election Commission records, gets its funding from Act Blue, the Democratic fundraising software and organization that raises hundreds of million of dollars to sway elections.
The complaint said Alaska Statute prohibits individuals from contributing more than $500 to organizations like Interior Voters for John Coghill and Working Families of Alaska, and that groups may also not contribute large sums to such independent expenditure efforts.
It seems likely that the complaint, while rejected by APOC staff, won’t stop there.
The Equal Citizens group will now likely sue APOC for not enforcing a superseded state law that is in conflict with federal law. The group has launched similar complaints in other carefully chosen states, and is finding independent expenditure groups to target from both sides of the political aisle, so as to appear nonpartisan.
Alaskans may see the Alaska Department of Law having to defend the Alaska Public Offices Commission decision in court, and if Equal Citizens has the money it appears to have, the case might continue through the courts and eventually end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.
DEPARTMENT OF IRONY
Scott Hawkins, who was a driving force behind the Accountability Project in 2016, which was one of the funders of Interior Voters for Coghill, is now a candidate for governor. His biggest challenge in the primary, at this stage, is Mike Dunleavy, the former senator from the Mat-Su Valley.
Last week, an independent expenditure group formed to support Dunleavy’s election, and its chair is Terre Gales, who lives in Wasilla. To date, the group has over $560,000 in financial commitments and started running ads during the Super Bowl and on the radio this week.
Hawkins was named in the complaint. If Hawkins has to defend his own independent expenditure efforts in the past, which he started after the Citizens United decision was settled, his current primary opponent will benefit from his efforts.
Deeper in the irony department is that Equal Citizens runs a super-PAC itself.
And if the reader has not had enough irony for one day, consider one of the main collaborators with Equal Citizens: Larry Lessig, the Harvard lawyer who is trying to dismantle the Electoral College, so that states like Alaska will have no voice at all in elections.
Lessig stood up his own super-PAC, the Mayday PAC, which spent millions of dollars to elect lawmakers who would pass laws to eliminate…wait for it… Super-PACs.