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APOC Staff tries to (mostly) give Rep. Bill Thomas Campaign a pass–My testimony for today's hearing

UPDATE – For those who are interested in listening to the hearing, the information can be found HERE.

Teleconference number
1-800-315-6338, Code 4176#1

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Everyone may remember a few weeks back when I filed an APOC complaint against Rep. William Thomas, Jr. (R–Haines). I posted about the APOC Complaint I had filed against the re-election campaign of Representative Bill Thomas, Jr.

Here is the complaint as listed on the APOC website.

The complaint is in response to a newspaper advertising campaign consisting of 17 ads which ran in the Chilkat Valley News during the weeks leading up to the election:

…Upon further research, it was impossible to determine exactly what category of legal contributions these ads were attempting to fit, if any:

James Studley was the one who coordinated the entire ad buy. He provided the photos, drafted the copy, designed the ads and worked with Ms. Evandon on the buy, but directed Chilkat Valley News to bill each business listed on the ads for payment.

James Studley is a Deputy Treasurer for the Thomas campaign:

…because Mr. Studley was one of Thomas’s Deputy Treasurers and he coordinated the entire advertising buy, this did not appear to qualify as an “Independent Expenditure” because AS Sec. 15.13.135. and regulation 2 AAC 50.270 states that Independent Expenditures cannot be coordinated with members of the campaign.

This wasn’t the only “coordination with the campaign” regarding these ads. Per the complaint:

At least three high-ranking members of Representative Bill Thomas, Jr’s re-election campaign staff sit on their Executive Boards of some of the businesses purchasing these ads:— Haines Real Estate (2 ads): Owned by Alaska Resources Consulting, Inc — James Studley, Deputy Treasurer for the Thomas Campaign, is President of Alaska Resources.

— Alaska Resources Consulting, Inc.(2 ads): James Studley, Deputy Treasurer for the Thomas Campaign, is President.

— Oleruds Inc. (1 ad): Doug Olerud is the Chairperson & Deputy Treasurer of the Thomas Campaign and he is President of Olerud’s, Inc.

— King’s Store Inc.: Gregg Richmond, Deputy Treasurer for the Thomas Campaign, is on the King’s Store Board of Directors as a Secretary/Treasurer.

 

Realize, I just wanted to file this complaint because it seemed to me to be a particularly flagrant violation of the Regs and Statutes. I have felt that the Citizen’s United ruling has caused some folks to think that “anything goes” and I felt a complaint like this would let people know that is not the case. However, I even expressed that I was understanding of the complexity and even the confusion…to a point. While I could have (and was encouraged to) lodge complaints against ALL of the businesses involved in this ad buy, I chose to only target those at the campaign. I believed they had the far greater burden and responsibility to know the law and I could see how the other businesses would easily trust them to make sure things were above-board.

Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN) did an excellent radio story on the complaint. The Chilkat Valley News, the paper that ran the ads, also did a story. Deputy Treasurer Jim Studley claimed they were actually “thank you” ads, not campaigning…that somehow Citizens United granted them “free speech” dispensation. I had my own reaction.

Well, the APOC Staff Report came out and they seem to want to (mostly) give these guys a pass, which makes me very unhappy.   However, today is the hearing, as listed on this APOC Meeting Agenda. I have prepared testimony and about 15 minutes to give it.

Use the links I’ve provided if you need more of the history, plus you can go to the APOC website (link above) and call in to the hearing, if you’d like. It’s at 1:30 pm AST

PS–I apologize for the references to Attachments you cannot see. However, if you look at the ads in the complaint you can see what I’m talking about. Also, the Section and page numbers in the testimony refer to the Staff Report. 
——————————————————————————————————

I’d like to thank the Commission for their time today.  I know they are swamped with hearings and I appreciate their effort.

The initial concern about the Representative William Thomas Jr. ad campaign in Haines was brought to me by multiple sources because I am someone who has expressed interest in Alaska ethics and disclosure issues.  I can tell you that I receive many such communications and requests on varying topics and for the vast majority I choose non-involvement.

However, this seemed to me that, even if it was not an obvious attempt at skirting or bending the law, it might encourage others to do so.  That is why I researched and filed a complaint on a candidate that, until then, I knew little or nothing about. 

I was utterly dismayed when I read the report by the APOC Staff.  I was disappointed that the respondent and his fellow campaign workers not only were taken at their word, but obvious contradictions went unchallenged and were even included in the report.  I was also disappointed that there were even instances where simple research on the APOC site would raise questions as to the accuracy of some of the testimony, yet it seemed that research was not done.

The best example of this lies in the first APOC Staff Conclusion from the Law & Analysis section of the report…that the designated “thank you” ads were “not campaign communications regulated by APOC”:

–APOC Staff Conclusion–Section IV, P8, para 1:

“Staff’s investigation revealed that the intent of James Studley and the other Haines business owners was to create “thank you” ads independently of the Rep. Thomas campaign. Each Respondent in this case indicated that the intent of the thank you ads was not to influence the outcome of Rep. Thomas or Senator Kookesh’s re-election, but was to express gratitude for their service in the state legislature,”

The staff’s conclusion is in utter conflict with the “Facts” presented in Section III, P4, para 2:

 “James Studley thought of the idea to run “thank you” ads following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen United. Mr. Studley’s original understanding was that Citizens United held that businesses could now give contributions to candidates. However, he wanted to play it safe with any action, and to run his ads separately from the Rep. Thomas campaign. In May 2010, he began contacting Haines business owners in an effort to demonstrate local support for Rep. Thomas…” 

The Citizens United case had nothing to do with fluffy “thank you” ads, it dealt specifically with campaign communications.  Mr. Studley basically lays it out for us that he intended to find a way to campaign for Bill Thomas without having to bother with those pesky campaign laws, which are understandably annoying.  Had he not been a member of the campaign, he may have found the road easier.

Another conclusion seemed incredulous to me, just by its wording:

–APOC Staff Conclusion–Section IV, P8, para 2:  “Staff believes that, while the actions and coordination of Representative Thomas’ campaign treasurers and local businesses may appear untoward in soliciting funds for the Thank You ads, there is not a preponderance of evidence that those ads were the type of communications regulated by APOC.”

First, an important aspect of campaign disclosure is to avoid even the appearance of “untoward” behavior.  Therefore, the acknowledgement by the APOC Staff that the appearance is untoward, followed by a claim of a lack of a “preponderance of evidence” I find to be incredible.  The reality, however, is that there is no lack of evidence both in the report itself as well as additional information to be found on APOC’s very own website.  Either it has not been investigated or it was not considered as evidence in the Staff Analysis.

a) For example, in Section III, P4, para 2:  “In May 2010, he (Studley) began contacting Haines business owners in an effort to demonstrate local support and to thank him (Mr. Thomas)…and negotiated a bulk rate with the newspaper for the ads”.

I don’t know how someone who is a part of the Thomas campaign can negotiate a bulk rate for an ad campaign, yet have each ad judged separately by APOC as to its intent.

b) The ads ran weekly through the primary election and until the APOC complaint was filed in October.

c) As stated above, the Citizens United Supreme Court Case gave Mr. Studley the idea in the first place.

d)  Section III P5 para 2:  “Mr. Studley told him (Thomas) he needed additional photos for his thank you ads.”  It seems that the entire campaign contributed to the formation of these “non-coordinated thank you” ads in one way or another.

And then we come to e)   the ads themselves. 

It was clear to me that Staff did not closely examine these ads nor did they put together all of the facts listed above when I read a portion of the report that seemed almost snarky to me:

–APOC Staff Conclusion–Section IV, P9 para 2:  “A thank you note is no more campaign speech than a newspaper ad taken out by Representative Thomas’ wife wishing him a happy birthday.”

Comparing these ads to a fictitious “birthday ad” placed by Mrs. Thomas for her husband is inaccurate on many levels.  However, it has a truly fatal flaw:  Mr. Thomas has one birthday, one day a year…not once a week for about 17 weeks leading up to the election.

And these ads are far from simple “thank you” ads, though you would not know so from the mild description in the Staff Report.  They contain leading language and high-pressure imagery, especially if one looks at them from the standpoint of a small town.  Also, most of the ads look alike in some way, so it’s very obvious they are related.

For example, in the packets provided to the Commissioners, Attachment 6 is one of the “vote ads.”  At the top, it says the phrase (in Tlingit) “Nobel people of this land!”  Then it states, as if written by Rep. Thomas himself, “Thank you for your support!”  The picture is of a toddler looking up and watching Rep. Thomas on a television during a House Session on “Gavel to Gavel.”  The text is also in the Legislator’s “voice”:  “Once again, Vote and help me return to the State of Alaska House of Representatives.  Gunalcheesh. (Tlingit for “thank you”)”

I don’t see how something could be more obviously a campaign ad, yet the APOC Staff reports as if the only offending word is “vote.”

Attachment 7 on the other hand is considered to be a “thank you” advertisement.  The photo is of Bill Thomas at some kind of ground-breaking.  The text:  “Representative William “Bill” Thomas.  He gets the job done!  Thank you, Bill for all of your hard work.  

He gets the job done?  That is more of a persuasive message than just “thank you.”  The “thank you” must be measured in context with the other words and images within the ad.  APOC staff fails to do this in their report.  The other ads have statements like: “Thank you for your support in Haines”, “Thank you for a job well done”-“working for all of us”, Thank you Bill for all of your hard work”, “Great team work”, (In Tlingit) “It is very good that we have all come together”, “Thank you for representing all of us”, “Commercial Fisherman, Father, State Representative”, “he works for the people”, “Gunalcheesh”, “thank you for your support of our fleet”, “A great team”.  

The “look” of the ads is also quite similar between the “vote” ads and the “thank you” ads as well as their use of the Tlingit language.  This can be seen in comparing Attachments 6 through 10.  

 These businesses are not just thanking Thomas for what he has done for them as a business and/or for their employees, but thanking him on behalf of the whole community…as if they are campaigning for Thomas.  No reasonable person would look upon these ads, their timing, their placement and the people involved as anything other than campaigning. That is why Mr. Studley’s creation, organization and layout of the ads clearly makes all of this more than just a problem of perception.

Also in conflict with the campaign’s stated “intent” is an unusual lack of paid advertising by the campaign itself.  House District 5 includes a number of Southeast towns and villages…the largest of which are Haines and Cordova.  Each of these 2 towns has one newspaper (The Chilkat Valley News & The Cordova Times), easily the largest newspapers within Mr. Thomas’ District.  As of an interview with Southeast radio station KRBD which ran August 26, 2010 (Attachment 2), Mr. Thomas still had knee surgery planned which would cut into his ability to campaign in-person.  Yet, according to a comparison of APOC finance records of the Thomas campaign from 2004 until now (Attachments 3 & 4), 2010 is the first year that they have purchased no advertising with the Chilkat Valley News.  (APOC and the Thomas Campaign may want to go over this at a later date…Attachment 5 in the packet is an ad that ran in the Chilkat Valley News after this complaint was filed stating it was “Paid for by Re-Elect Thomas” yet the campaign shows no record of paying for this ad.)

Another point of concern for me was that, though most of Rep. Thomas Campaign Staff were involved somehow in these ads, the APOC Staff seemed to buy the excuses that they “didn’t know” they were on the Thomas Campaign…that they were “confused” by the Citizens United ruling.  The APOC Staff either failed to recognize or acknowledge that the main Alaska Statutes being broken were actually unchanged by the Citizens United ruling!  When it came to the ones that had changed…the verbiage at the end of the ads…they didn’t even have it correct based on the old law!  It also seems the APOC Staff failed to research into the claims of ignorance by the campaign staff. For example, they gave Mr. Olerud a pass when he claimed he didn’t know he was a Deputy Treasurer but ignored the fact that he is THE CAMPAIGN CHAIR.

In Section III, P3 para 2,  Mr. Thomas states he “did not inform either Doug Olerud or Gregg Richmond that he was including them as deputy treasurers.”  Per Attachments 1a, 1b, 1c and 1d found in the packet provided to the Commissioners, Mr. Olerud was only Deputy Treasurer for Mr. Thomas in the 2004 campaign.  However, he has been the Campaign Chair in all four of Mr. Thomas’s Legislative campaigns, beginning in 2004.  Gregg Richmond, prior to this stint as a Deputy Treasurer, was the actual Campaign Treasurer for every previous campaign since 2004.  A reasonable person would think that Mr. Olerud and Mr. Richmond would already know or at least think to ask if Thomas again required their services.

Also, Mr. Thomas very obviously did not say that he didn’t inform Mr. Studley.  Therefore, there is no confirmation of Mr. Studley’s claim that he did not know he was a Deputy Treasurer.  Plus, in the report there was evidence to the contrary. 

In Section III, P3, para 2 : “Both Doug Olerud and James Studley were only listed as Deputy Treasurers because each had handled checks for the campaign. Doug Olerud handled checks in 2010, however James Studley had not handled any campaign checks since 2008 or 2009.”

Treasurers and Deputy Treasurers are the only ones who can handle checks. While Mr. Studley is not listed on the APOC website under the name “Studley” as a Deputy Treasurer for the 2008 campaign, I assume the misspelling of “Stanley” is meant to be “Studley.” (Otherwise, the legality of Mr. Studley handling checks in 2008 would come into question.)  Mr. Studley handling checks in 2009 during the lead-up to the 2010 campaign would clearly require him to be listed as a 2010 Deputy Treasurer.  Since we assume he was one in 2008, he should have understood that.

 In Section III, P5 para 2: “it appears that neither Studley, Olerud, or Richmond was actively involved with the Rep. Thomas re-election campaign.”

Alaska Statues do not have a definition or distinction of “actively involved” campaign staff.  The question could be asked, as a point of law, if having names on a legal document of folks who claim not to be “actively involved”…especially campaign workers who have Statutory responsibility…constitutes fraud?  The fact that APOC Staff would give credence to the “not active” claim is a matter of some concern.

–Section III, P6, para 2:  “When approached by Mr Studley (in May 2010) he (Olerud) took Mr Studley at his word that the “thank you” ads were permissible.”

Mr. Olerud is a veteran of at least four campaigns.  Mr. Olerud was not simply the Deputy Treasurer, he was also the only Campaign Chair Mr. Thomas ever had in his House District 5 career.  It was Mr. Olerud’s responsibility to make sure Rep. Thomas was not put at risk of breaking campaign law.  Mr. Olerud failed. 

There is much more to touch on but not enough time to do so.  However, there are several issues that are too important to ignore that have not been acknowledged by this investigation:

1)       The fate of challengers vs. incumbent legislators. 

If this staff report is permitted to stand as it is, it will add greatly to the problem of incumbent advantage in Alaska…something that is already an issue.  I would hate to see new blood given yet an additional challenge when running for office.  However, I also know that when I walk out of here this afternoon, if this staff report stands, I will contact all of the incumbents across the state that I like and tell them they need to get going organizing their own “thank-you ads” within each business community in each town and village.  

2)      The fate of Rural Alaska politics. 

I was contacted leading up to this hearing by folks in Haines.  They wanted me to impart to the Commission that an ad campaign like this involving a powerful Legislator showing the support of some of the most powerful businesses in their community is truly intimidating.  Realize there is only one grocery store, one lumber yard, one newspaper that is read the day it comes out cover-to-cover.  I believe this decision is a big deal for urban and rural legislators.  However, how it influences rural politics is magnified.

I have always supported APOC Staff and will continue to do so.  I have had nothing but good treatment from them and I have great respect for the work they do.   I strongly disagree with this Staff Report but do not mistake strong criticism for a lack of respect.

I thank the Commission for this opportunity to address them.

Comments

comments

Comments
11 Responses to “APOC Staff tries to (mostly) give Rep. Bill Thomas Campaign a pass–My testimony for today's hearing”
  1. TheRubberRoomHotel says:

    Really great work Linda, thanks for your dedication to this.

  2. Zyxomma says:

    Thanks for this post. “No reasonable person would look upon these ads, their timing, their placement and the people involved as anything other than campaigning.” The keyword in this sentence is “reasonable.” I hope they are.

  3. Diane says:

    Great job very well researched and very to the point. You were respectful yet got the point across.
    You know, we all know about the corruption in Alaska and it continues.
    I thought palin took care of the corruption while governor? It’s more likely they allowed hers to flourish.

  4. zyggy says:

    I sure hope they actually listen to you Linda, you need to be heard. I wish you the very best of luck.

  5. ks sunflower says:

    Linda, congratulations on a job well done. People trust you because you research, follow-through, and keep your word. When I first sought out the themudflats in 2008 through a general search on Sarah Palin, I knew nothing about Alaskan politics or Alaskan bloggers.

    However, I soon realized that there are many intelligent, compassionate, concerned and politically-active bloggers in Alaska deserving a national audience. The quality of your writing, AKM’s and so many others is setting a new standard across the nation as citizen activists begin to realize that if we want quality in government, we have to demand it and constantly monitor those in it.

    There are countless people in government in various capacities, including elected offices, that are true public servants who follow the rules, work hard, and deliver on their promises or explain why they have not been able to fulfill them. Then, unfortunately, there are the stinkers who use government, particularly elected office to pad their personal fortunes, help their donors or friends, and who don’t give a fig for the people who helped them get where they are. They never intend to work hard to fulfill promises because they’ve bought into the Carl Rove school of politics: the ends justify the means, and the ends for them are simply fame and fortune.

    Thank goodness there are people such as you willing to invest your time, energy and even risk your reputation to monitor the scoundrels and when you see wrongdoing, you use the system to call them out. You are raising the standards for us all, and helping to ensure we get the best government we can. Thank you.

    In fact, thank all the Alaskan bloggers for their breakthrough presence on the internet and their dedication to the pursuit of truth.

  6. Moose Pucky says:

    APOC has just opened up a whole new line of opportunity for incumbents.

    Thank them for their service–and do with a big paid ad, week after week, right before an election. And, heck, you don’t even have to report it or follow any rules–because, heck, it’s a thank you ad.

    All incumbents should write a big “thank you” ad right now to APOC.

    Wow, what a great deal for incumbents–APOC, the Division of Elections, and the Alaska Supreme Court!

    Everyone else go home and such your thumb. The establishment rules and that’s that.

    • CO almost native says:

      Heck with the right-before-an-election…make it 52 weeks a year! A win-win for all: the publication, the advertisers, the politicians…oh wait, maybe not so good for the citizens. bummer.

  7. laingirl says:

    Linda, that was quite a job for you to do. I’m very impressed and wouldn’t want to be in a “fight” with you!

  8. Hopefully we’ll know today…I’m not sure if they’ll vote by the end of the hearing or at the “deliberations” time towards the end of the day.

  9. Dagian says:

    When will they make their decision public?

    Well done, Linda.

  10. CO almost native says:

    Bravo! Well researched and well said, Linda- congratulations, and I wish you success.

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