A complaint filed Wednesday with the Alaska Public Offices Commission alleges advocates of repealing the state’s open primary elections and ranked choice voting are violating numerous campaign disclosure laws. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

A complaint filed Wednesday with the Alaska Public Offices Commission alleges advocates of repealing the state’s open primary elections and ranked choice voting are violating numerous campaign disclosure laws. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Ranked choice repeal ‘church’ violating campaign laws, complaint alleges

Four organizations and two people leading repeal effort accused of “laundering donations”

A recently-formed church known as the Ranked Choice Education Association is part of an illegal effort to put a measure on next year’s ballot to repeal Alaska’s open primary and ranked choice voting system, a complaint filed Wednesday with the Alaska Public Offices Commission alleges.

The Ranked Choice Education Association was formed last December in the state of Washington as an “Integrated Auxiliary” for Wellspring Fellowship of Alaska, according to its Articles of Incorporation. The 154-page complaint filed with APOC alleges those and other organizations, and people associated with them, violated more than two dozen campaign finance laws.

The Washington church is “illegally acting as a de facto ballot group while laundering donations to obscure donor identity and possibly procure unlawful tax deductions,” according to a statement by Alaskans For Better Elections, which filed the complaint and was a primary backer of the successful ballot effort to pass ranked choice voting in 2020.

The similarly named Alaskans for Honest Elections was formed shortly after the 2022 elections — the first in Alaska using the open primaries and ranked choice voting — to advocate for a repeal of those measures either by the Alaska Legislature or via a ballot petition for the 2024 election.

While many candidates and political analysts said the changes resulted in more moderate lawmakers being elected, conservative Republicans in particular — including losing candidates Sarah Palin and Kelly Tshibaka — said the new laws put them at an unfair and possibly illegal disadvantage.

Organizations targeted by the APOC complaint are Wellspring Ministries of Alaska (which has an identical address and other affiliation information with Wellspring Fellowship), Ranked Choice Education Association, Alaskans for Honest Elections and Alaskans for Honest Government.

The Washington-based association seemingly exists “for the purpose of using Wellspring’s (tax-exempt) IRS status to provide donors with potentially unlawful tax deductions for political donations,” the complaint alleges. “Wellspring’s support of this overt political activity is not only contrary to the federal and local tax benefits that Wellspring benefits from; this behavior also amounts to, at a minimum, unreported and undisclosed ‘in kind’ contributions from Wellspring to RCEA.”

The complaint also names Art Mathias — founder of Wellspring Ministries, president of the Ranked Choice Education Association and director of Alaskans for Honest Elections — and Phillip Izon, a director of the Ranked Choice Education Association and chairman of Alaskans for Honest Elections.

Izon, in an interview Thursday, said most of the allegations in the complaint are based on incorrect information or misunderstandings with APOC, and have been since corrected or otherwise resolved.

The largest contribution to Alaskans for Honest Elections, for example, is a non-monetary donation by Izon of $200,000 in “management costs” for a two-week period in January. The complaint accuses Izon of “reporting over $200,000 of fictional contributions” due to the claimed worth of that amount of work, but Izon said his intent was for that amount to cover his work through the 2024 election.

Izon, when asked why the Washington-based auxiliary “church” was formed since its Alaska parent organization is already involved in the repeal effort, said the out-of-state entity is a longer-range project focusing mostly on non-Alaska campaigns.

“We expect the Ranked Choice Education Association to be a valuable tool to use to educate people about ranked choice nationwide,” he said.

Mathias told the Anchorage Daily News on Wednesday the complaint is “just politics and lies,” but declined to answer specific questions about the allegations.

If APOC accepts the complaint as filed, it has one month to investigate the allegations and will notify the accused parties of their right to formally respond, with possible further steps depending on the agency’s findings.

Izon, meanwhile, said “we’re almost finished with our signature gathering” for the repeal petition, with more than 20,000 collected to date. A total of 26,000 signatures from three-quarters of the state’s 40 House districts are required by February to put the measure on the ballot.

“That we’re six months early should tell you everything you need to know about this process,” he said.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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