Kelly Tshibaka speaks at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in October 2022. A group led by the former Republican U.S. Senate candidate has been accused of violating state campaign finance laws. (Photo by Yereth Rosen./Alaska Beacon)

Kelly Tshibaka speaks at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in October 2022. A group led by the former Republican U.S. Senate candidate has been accused of violating state campaign finance laws. (Photo by Yereth Rosen./Alaska Beacon)

Report from Alaska campaign regulator says Tshibaka-linked group violated state law

Staff for the Alaska Public Offices Commission have recommended a $16,450 fine against Preserve Democracy, a group led by former U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka.

In a report released Friday, staff for the state’s campaign finance regulator concluded that Preserve Democracy failed to register with the commission before campaigning in favor of a proposed ballot measure that would repeal Alaska’s ranked choice voting system.

The new report is only a recommendation: Any fines must be approved by the commission, which meets next month.

The report was issued in response to a complaint filed in July by Alaskans for Better Elections, a group that backs ranked choice voting here.

Staff dismissed allegations that Preserve Democracy improperly participated in Anchorage’s municipal election and that Tshibaka acted as an unregistered lobbyist, but attorney Scott Kendall, who filed the complaint on behalf of Alaskans for Better Elections, said of the result, “on the whole, we’re very pleased … The staff definitely did some hard work.”

While the recommended fine is relatively small in the context of a statewide political campaign, Kendall said that if the complaint is upheld, it will force Preserve Democracy to disclose its donors and register with the state.

“The main nexus of the case for my client was the unregistered campaigning in favor of a ballot measure, and that’s the big piece,” Kendall said. “And that’s where APOC clearly agrees.”

According to the report, timing was the key factor: Preserve Democracy set up a website opposing ranked choice voting just as repeal proponents launched their ballot measure.

Tshibaka spoke at events in February 2023, said her group was coordinating with a separate group supporting the repeal, and urged people to sign the petition for repeal.

Though Preserve Democracy’s website doesn’t specifically mention the repeal petition, “under all the circumstances, it was susceptible of no other reasonable interpretation but as an exhortation to support the (repeal) petition,” staff wrote.

That matters because campaign activity is regulated, and general speech on a particular topic is not.

Staff concluded that Preserve Democracy needed to register as a campaign entity, report its spending, and insert campaign-specific disclosures on its website.

Matt Singer, an attorney representing Preserve Democracy and Tshibaka, said his clients “strongly disagree with the staff’s conclusion that the website is an independent (campaign) expenditure.”

“It’s essentially taking free speech, political speech, the fact that Ms. Tshibaka expressed an opinion about the initiative, and because she expressed an opinion about the initiative, that converts a website that doesn’t talk about the initiative into advocacy,” Singer said.

“It’s just not consistent with past advice and decisions. So we look forward to taking it to hearing and to court, and to the Supreme Court if we need to,” he said.

A separate complaint, filed against the group directly backing the repeal petition, has yet to be analyzed by commission staff. A report on that complaint is expected before the end of the month.

• James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared online at alaskabeacon.com. Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 8

Here’s what to expect this week.

Two banks with drive-through lanes are seen on Postal Way on Thursday morning. A man was fatally struck by a truck in a drive-through lane in the area during the early morning hours of June 1. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Man dies after being struck by truck while laying in drive-through lane near Mendenhall post office

Armando Sanchez, 38, struck during early morning hours of June 1; JPD notified of death Tuesday.

Curtis Davis sharpens a spike at his makeshift campsite near Juneau International Airport on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
With no official place to camp, homeless and neighborhoods alike are suffering miseries

Complaints to JPD nearly double, social agencies seek “safety zone,” many campers just want peace.

Alaska Supreme Court Justice Peter Maassen receives applause from his fellow justices and members of the Alaska Legislature during the annual State of the Judiciary address on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, at the Alaska State Capitol. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Gov. Dunleavy will be asked to pick fourth state Supreme Court justice

Applications being accepted to replace Peter Maassen, who reaches mandatory retirement age next year

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Monday, June 10, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Pins supporting the repeal of ranked choice voting are seen on April 20 at the Republican state convention in Anchorage. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska ranked choice repeal measure wins first round of legal challenge, but trial awaits

Correction: The initial version of this article incorrectly listed Alaskans for Better… Continue reading

Juneau resident Ajah Rose Bishop, 21, suffered severe spinal injuries in a single-vehicle accident early Saturday morning. (GoFundMe fundraiser photo)
Woman breaks spine in single-vehicle collision on Egan Drive early Saturday morning

21-year-old Juneau resident medivaced to Anchorage, online fundraising effort underway.

Shannan Greene (left) and Sharyn Augustine hold signs on April 27 urging residents to sign recall petitions for Juneau Board of Education President Deedie Sorensen and Vice President Emil Mackey due to their roles in a budget crisis for the current fiscal year. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
School board recall petitions submitted; supporters of Saturday cruise ship ban need more signatures

Third initiative seeking to repeal default by-mail elections also has 10 days to get more signers.

Most Read