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RCV opponents hit with more accusations of ignoring state campaign laws
Strange it keeps happening.
Good afternoon, Alaska. It’s Monday.
In this edition: Another week, another complaint alleging that the groups working to repeal Alaska’s open primaries and ranked-choice voting system are ignoring the state’s election laws. This time, the complaint accuses failed U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka and her nonprofit corporation, Protect Democracy, of lobbying and campaigning without registering to do so.
Current mood: ☁️
RCV opponents hit with more accusations of ignoring state campaign laws
Another week, another campaign complaint alleging a group working to overturn Alaska’s open primary and ranked-choice voting system is violating the most basic underpinnings of the state’s campaigning laws.
Today’s complaint, filed by the pro-RCV group Alaskans for Better Elections with attorney Scott Kendall at the helm, accuses failed U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka and the nonprofit she founded after her 2022 loss, Protect Democracy, of flouting Alaska’s campaign finance and lobbying laws. For good measure, Alaskans for Honest Elections, the group behind the initiative to repeal Alaska’s election system that was slammed with accusations it was running a sprawling campaign through a church, also picked up some new allegations in this complaint.
The background: Following her loss to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in 2022, Tshibaka pivoted to what losing Republican candidates seem to do nowadays: Blame the system. It was the fault of the open primaries and ranked-choice voting that Tshibaka lost, Tshibaka claimed, rather than her fundamental unelectability. So sure she was about that, that she launched a nonprofit corporation in Alaska, Protect Democracy, before the close of 2022 to drum up support for repealing the system.
Neither Protect Democracy nor Tshibaka have registered with the state as a political campaign, a requirement to raise and spend money attempting to influence an election. Nor did they file as lobbyists, which is necessary if you’re getting paid to influence the legislative process.
The complaint argues that they have done both, largely pointing to comments that Tshibaka made on a recent episode of a Must Read Alaska podcast where she boasted about her efforts to end open primaries and ranked-choice voting in joint events with Alaskans for Honest Elections and lobby legislators to do the same. She also went so far as to pull back the curtain on an effort to boost conservative voter turnout in this year’s Anchorage election while also skirting campaign laws.
The allegations: The campaign complaint argues that Protect Democracy was, at the very least, providing an in-kind, non-monetary contribution to Alaskans for Honest Elections’ campaign against ranked-choice voting that should have been reflected in filings by Protect Democracy (which has filed none) and Alaskans for Honest Elections (which has filed one, and failed to file several others).
As for the lobbying, it points to Tshibaka’s statements about lobbying legislators into supporting the last-minute efforts to push through legislation repealing open primaries and ranked-choice voting. Anyone getting paid to lobby who commits more than 10 hours must register under state law. However, it’s unclear whether Tshibaka was paid as the complaint only says, “Thisbaka is believed to be compensated by” Protect Democracy.
The last point about the Anchorage elections is probably the smokiest of smoking guns of wrongdoing. On the podcast, Tshibaka described the effort as a simple get-out-the-vote campaign, which wouldn’t typically fall under campaigning as they generally are not trying to explicitly influence a campaign, except for the part where it only targeted conservative households. Here’s an example of one mailer:
Reading the transcript in the complaint, it sounds like Tshibaka believed she had happened across a magic bullet to influence local campaigns.
Tshibaka: And so we use some of the same methods and techniques that they were using in Florida [to turn out Republicans], we’ll use one of the top analytics firms data analytics firms in the country, to target voters . . . . And we just put a ton of money into it.
(Host John) Quick: So, let me walk myself through this strategy . . . . There’s a dozen people out there knocking on doors, they knock on the doors of Republicans, they help them register as an absentee ballot person. And then they follow up with that person during the week or two before the election to either help them turn in the ballot or mail it on their behalf. Is that kind of some strategy that happens in Florida?
Tshibaka: Yes, exactly. You got it right.
The only problem, though, is that the APOC regulators have already said such a specifically targeted campaign would certainly fall under the realm of a partisan campaign. Additionally, Tshibaka tweeted images of her mailer with a direct call to “vote common-sense Republicans onto our Assembly” that named the seven conservative candidates, which is a partisan call to action.
The results: It should be noted that of the seven assembly candidates she backed for election, only one won, and that was from the dependably conservative Eagle River.
The takeaway: For a bunch of groups and organizations hoping to upend voter-approved changes to Alaska’s election system, they don’t have a particularly good handle on how Alaska’s election laws work. As the complaint against Alaskans for Honest Elections pointed out, “whether by design or through sheer incompetence,” they all have appeared to have violated some of the most basic requirements of Alaska election laws, such as registering to fundraise and spend on an election.
Whether it’s incompetence or something more sinister is something for the Alaska Public Offices Commission to determine. Still, the Alaskans for Better Elections’ complaint drives home the accusation that they see it all as an intentional effort to hide the campaigns’ inner workings from public scrutiny.
“Ms. Tshibaka and her organization, Preserve Democracy, are clearly against the reforms of Ballot Measure 2, including its nonpartisan open primary elections and ranked-choice general elections. Although it is their right to support closed partisan primaries and oppose these nonpartisan improvements to our election system, they must still obey existing laws when taking these actions,” the complaint argues. “Ms. Tshibaka and PD appear to have intentionally disobeyed the law in order to keep their finances completely opaque to the public, including while attempting to influence the outcome of the most recent Anchorage municipal election. That cannot be allowed.”
Or, perhaps, as Alaska politics twitterer Will Muldoon put it on Twitter at the time of the first complaint: “Repealing Ranked Choice Voting in Alaska might need to pivot to repealing campaign disclosure laws in Alaska.”
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