Sloppy and manipulative reporting landed Bronson with a $52,650 fine, but it's likely to happen again

Also, if you care about the PFD, taxes and state services, the Legislature "wants" to hear from you as they hit the road later this week.

Good morning, Alaska! The Olympics are great and we’re all rooting for Lydia Jacoby, who’ll be racing for medal tonight!

In this edition: A look at the latest APOC fine, the message it sends and why we ought to be concerned that it won’t be the last of ‘em, the upcoming special session and the need to be heard and the agenda for a busy week ahead.

‘Utterly confusing reports’ land Bronson with significant fine

Last week, the Alaska Public Offices Commission’s staff recommended a whopping $52,650 fine against Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s campaign for sloppy financial reports spanning the duration of his campaign for office. Based on a complaint brought by Forrest Dunbar’s campaign, the report found Bronson’s team failed to report expenses and debt when incurred, failed to carry over unpaid debts from one report to the next, failed to return over-the-limit contributions in a timely manner and failed to provide complete details for several expenditures. Taken together, the report is important for several reasons. First, it’s a pretty sizable fine by APOC standards, which usually opens with blisteringly high fines according to the statutory maximums only to reduce them to a fraction of the maximum—like Rep. Lance Pruitt’s $1 million statutory maximum fine for years of sloppy reporting that resulted in a $20,000 fine. Second, like with fines leveled against Pruitt, the report sends the message that sloppy and misleading reporting won’t be tolerated.

In several parts, the report points out that “none of BFM’S original reports provided the full and complete information required by APOC statutes and regulations” and delivers a pretty harsh assessment in closing:

“After wading through (Bronson for Mayor’s) utterly confusing reports for many days, it is clear to staff that the public had no idea of what was going on in the (Bronson for Mayor) campaign until well after the April 6, 2021 election and the May 11, 2021 runoff elections,” concludes the report. “Under all the circumstances staff recommends no reduction to the civil penalty in the case.”

The report is also critical of the Bronson campaign, which had pledged to quickly fix all its problems when the complaints were first brought, for waiting until after the run-off election was over to provide substantial amendments to the earlier reports.

“It is important to note that in denying Complainant’s request for expedited consideration, the Commission relied on the representation of counsel for BFM that any violations would be expeditiously corrected with amendments to campaign disclosure reports and return of any prohibited contributions,” explained the report, later adding, “As the investigation revealed, it was not until BFM’s May 11, 2021, amendments to its year-start, 30-day and 7-day reports that the reports came even close to compliant.”

Why it matters: As the Dunbar campaign argued throughout the process, the sloppy reporting had the impact of making it impossible to track what the Bronson campaign was getting up to, how it was being funded and how to best respond. Did this have an impact on the outcome of the race? Hard to say, but another thing to keep in mind is that the sloppy reporting and lingering questions—like how the Bronson campaign got ahold of private polling information—make it difficult to get a full (well, full under the statutory and regulatory guidelines) picture of the finanacial influences on the new administration. Campaign finance documents don’t stop being useful information the day the campaign is over, but help understand—to an extent—the influences and interests of an elected official moving forward. It’s still not entirely clear if we have a fully picture of the Bronson campaign’s activity.

APOC’s budget has been slashed left and right, with its pleas for funding largely going ignored by the folks they’re regulating, and it has left the agency with limited capacity to review and quickly act upon the complaints brought to it. Hopefully, it’s something that legislators in the future reconsider because this limited capacity is clearly something that the Bronson campaign and others are starting to bank on. The only reason any of this came to the forefront in the first place was the work of Dunbar campaign treasurer and APOC whiz Paula DeLaiarro, who also brought the complaints against Pruitt. In a prepared statement accompanying the release of the report against Bronson, DeLaiarro said this was particularly bad faith.

“Given that those amendments were filed on the day of the Runoff Election - after the polls closed, no less - indicate that the Bronson campaign never intended to fully and accurately disclose its activity in a timely manner. It is now clear that the Commissioners were hoodwinked by Bronson's counsel, Stacey Stone, of Holmes Weddle & Barcott,” she said. “With no incentive to clean up its reports, the Bronson campaign elected to run out the clock before disclosing substantial debt and other financial activity just after the election. Having worked on over 40 campaigns, I have never personally encountered a campaign that exhibited such flagrant bad faith behavior.”

Unfortunately, without a several more DeLaiarros and a beefed up APOC, it’s likely to happen again. After all, what’s a $52,650 when you have the mayor’s office and millions of dollars of sole-source contracts to hand out?

Sound off

Care about the future of the PFD? The future of state government? The future of taxes? Then, it’s going to be important to be heard at a series of upcoming legislative hearings this week week as the Legislature’s Fiscal Plan Working Group hits the road heading into what may or may not be a consequential special session.

With the legislature set to go into its third special session of the year on Aug. 2 (at least that’s the current plan), the working group has scheduled public hearings in Anchorage, Wasilla, Fairbanks and Juneau (where call-ins will also be heard) to gauge public sentiment on the path ahead.

  • Thursday, 6 p.m. — Anchorage LIO

  • Friday, 6 p.m. — Mat-Su LIO in Wasilla

  • Saturday, 1 p.m. — Fairbanks LIO

  • Monday, Aug. 2, 6 p.m. — Senate Finance Room 532 in the Capitol, Juneau with call-in (586-9085 from Juneau, 563-9085 fromAnchorage and 844-586-9085 from anywhere else)

The Aug. 2 special session was announced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy earlier this year for legislators to work on a long-range fiscal plan. While the governor had hoped it would be a platform for legislators to send several constitutional amendments to the 2022 ballot, the Legislature is going to be facing more immediate problems when/if it gavels in next week.

Top on the list will be the complete lack of the dividend after Dunleavy vetoed the $1,100 PFD proposed by legislators—of which only $525 was funded in the budget that they sent him—and the fate of several other programs that are in uncertain waters thanks to a failed procedural vote. Top among those programs is the Power Cost Equalization program that helps some 80,000 Alaskans with high energy costs in small, hard-to-serve communities. Under an expanded reading of the law (which is also currently being challenged in court), the Dunleavy administration decided to sweep the program’s $1 billion endowment into the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve—which requires a supermajority vote to tap—thereby leaving the program with no operating funds.

Mustering the three-quarter votes to put those funds back will be the big task of the session, but given the asking price of several far-right Republicans—which has ranged from large PFDs to PFD payback to anti-abortion language and a slate of traction-less constitutional amendments—it may all prove to be too expensive, which could prompt alternatives such as funding things on a one-time basis. And that’s not to mention the lawsuit challenging the governor’s interpretation of the Power Cost Equalization program that’s currently set for oral arguments on Aug. 5.

Whether or not the Legislature ultimately has the energy and political capital to do anything more than address the fires currently before them, it’s less than likely that they’ll be able to do much more to address the state’s financial outlook with things like a change to the dividend formula, changes to big-ticket state services that are driven by formulas set in law—like K-12 funding or Medicaid—or any new revenue measures.

On the agenda

This week looks to be busier than most. It’s almost like there’s a special session coming up or something.

Monday

  • 3 p.m. — Comprehensive Fiscal Plan Working Group

Tuesday

  • 10 a.m. — House Fisheries — Presentation on DNR water regulations

  • 1 p.m. — Joint Education hearing on a presentation on early learning policies from… Mississippi

  • 3 p.m. — Comprehensive Fiscal Plan Working Group

Wednesday

  • 1 p.m. — Joint Armed Services Committee holds an organizational meeting and decoration of honor discussion

  • 2 p.m. — House Labor and Commerce holds an overview of the support for Alaska’s childcare sector

Thursday

  • 2 p.m. — Legislative Budget and Audit

  • 6 p.m. — Comprehensive Fiscal Plan Working Group public hearing at the Anchorage LIO

Friday

  • 6 p.m. — Comprehensive Fiscal Plan Working Group public hearing at the Mat-Su LIO

Saturday

  • 1 p.m. — Comprehensive Fiscal Plan Working Group public hearing at the Fairbanks LIO

Monday, Aug. 2

  • 10 a.m. — Start of third special session

  • 6 p.m. — Comprehensive Fiscal Plan Working Group public hearing in Juneau