This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
Alaska Yes Inc has responded to a complaint, denying many of the allegations that they violated several campaign laws. The complaint was filed against the nonprofit in September by Alaska Public Offices Commission staff.
In a Sept. 23 memo from Campaign Disclosure Coordinator Thomas Lucas to Alaska Public Offices Commissioners, he wrote that Alaska Yes Inc had violated several campaign laws, including failing to register as a group in a timely matter, failing to file campaign disclosure reports, failing to report non-monetary contributions to the John Quick campaign, using Alaska Yes expenditures to support Quick and failing to identify the true source of funds used in expenditures. Quick ran for the Nikiski seat on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, but lost to Jesse Bjorkman.
An Oct. 16 letter response from Elizabeth Leduc, an attorney representing Alaska Yes Inc in the APOC investigation, refutes specific allegations made by the commission’s staff.
In their memo, Alaska Public Offices Commission defines Alaska Yes Inc as a “group,” which is defined as “any combination of two or more individuals acting jointly who organize for the principal purpose of influencing the outcome of one or more elections and who take action the major purpose of which is to influence the outcome of an election.”
In Leduc’s letter, she said Alaska Yes Inc does not qualify as a group because the nonprofit was not created for the purpose of influencing an election.
According to APOC’s memo, Alaska Yes Inc began making expenditures prior to an Aug. 31 fundraiser, but did not register as a group with Alaska Public Offices Commission until Sept. 5, and only did so as an entity, not as a group, violating campaign law AS 15.13.050.
An affidavit from Peter Zuyus, Alaska Yes Inc president and chairperson, says that their organization’s first expenditure was made on or around Sept. 10, with the purchase of signs opposing Proposition 1.
However, Facebook’s ad library, which archives information about advertising campaigns on social issues and elections for transparency purposes, shows Alaska Yes’ — now deactivated — paid for four ads related to the October municipal election to run on their Facebook page between Aug. 18 and Sept. 7.
Two ads showing endorsement videos for assembly candidate Quick from Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce and Rep. Ben Carpenter (R-Nikiski) ran from Sept. 5-7. Another ad that ran between Aug. 18-23 advertises a website against then-assembly candidate Tyson Cox. The website, tysoncoxno.com, is now deactivated, but did contain a disclaimer that the site was also paid for and approved by Alaska Yes Inc. Another ad, also running Aug. 18-23 opposed then-assembly candidate Brent Johnson. Less than $100 was spent on each ad campaign, according to the library’s archive.
Alaska Yes Inc advertisements contained disclosures saying “not authorized, paid for or approved by any candidate.” The complaint says this disclaimer is not true and violated law AS 15.13.135. Alaska Yes Inc’s then-treasurer, Kathy Toms, testified to the commission that Quick’s former campaign manager, Paul Huber, participated in Alaska Yes campaigns in support of Quick.
“Likewise, because of Mr. Huber’s participation, Alaska Yes’ expenditures supporting Mr. Quick and opposing his opponents are not independent expenditures, but rather, are non-monetary contributions to the Quick campaign,” the memo said.
In Leduc’s letter, Alaska Yes Inc acknowledges Huber’s correspondence with the nonprofit, saying the organization’s president, Zuyus, sent three emails to Huber on Sept. 4, 8 and 16.
“I started sending emails to the board of Alaska Yes and Paul Huber regarding possible content for ads opposing Jonathon Quick’s opponent Jesse Bjorkman,” Zuyus said in his affidavit.
Zuyus said the print ad regarding Bjorkman never ran and that Huber did not approve or disapprove any ads for Alaska Yes Inc. The three emails Huber corresponded on were provided to the commission, the affidavit said.
The complaint alleges that Alaska Yes Inc expenditures supporting Quick violate law AS 15.13.074(f).
“Alaska Yes funded its support of Mr. Quick with contributions from persons prohibited from contributing to a candidate,” the memo said.
In his affidavit, Zuyus says Alaska Yes spent less than $100 on “pro-Quick/anti-Bjorkman campaign activity.”
The final allegation on the complaint says Alaska Yes Inc did not identify the true sources of the funds it’s used for expenditures in support of Quick’s campaign.
“Alaska Yes has filed an independent expenditure report showing that its sole contributor is Celebrate Alaska,” the commission’s memo said. “But, Celebrate Alaska is simply a reserved name owned by Alaska Yes. The true source of the funds would be the contributors who contributed to the Celebrate Alaska fundraiser(s). Failure to identify the true source of funds is a violation of AS 15.13.074(a) and 2 AAC 50.258(a).”
In an independent expenditure form filed in September with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, a number of expenditures on signs, print and radio advertisements and auto expenses, were listed totalling $4,979.83.
In that filing, Alaska Yes also paid for ads to Sound Publishing, the owner of the Homer News and the Peninsula Clarion, for ads against borough Prop 1 and in support of Homer City Council candidates Tom Stroozas and Shelly Erickson and assembly candidates Rose Henry and Holly Odd.
The filing also includes a contributor, Celebrate Alaska. The contribution was made on Aug. 31, for $20,930.17.
The name Celebrate Alaska, was used by Alaska Yes Aug. 31 to host a fundraiser to celebrate former Lt. Governor Loren Leman, Duc’s response said. The gala-style event was held at Homer’s Lands End Resort and included dinner, music and a live auction. Tickets for the event were $100 and a copy of the ticket says that the event’s proceeds “will support issues and programs that enhance the well-being of Alaskans whose voices are not often heard, including Alaskan seniors, veterans and those with disabilities.”
Leduc’s response said the event was not intended or described as an election-related event. Duc said Alaska Yes Inc mistakenly the $20,930.17 in funds as contributions in their expenditures report.
“Alaska Yes maintains that the participants in the Celebrate Alaska event should rightfully be considered donors, rather than contributors,” Leduc said in her letter.
Alaska Yes Inc has filed a notice of closure with the Internal Revenue Service. All of Alaska Yes’ board of directors — except for Zuyus — have resigned,including Alaska’s District 31 Republican Party chair Nona Safra, former Nikiski assembly president Wayne Ogle and Kathy Toms. The organization will be administratively dissolved by the state, Zuyus’ affidavit said.
Leduc said Alaska Yes Inc is fully cooperating with the ongoing APOC investigation, and declined to comment further.