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Almost a Year Later, APOC Will Render a Verdict on Rep. Bill Thomas

By Linda Kellen Biegel

 

Mudflatters, think wayyyyyy, wayyyyyy back to October of 2010 and you might remember Representative William Thomas, Jr., a Republican legislator from the beautiful little town of Haines, Alaska.

Representative Thomas is not someone who generally comes to my attention way over here in Anchorage. However, in September of 2010 while Rep. Thomas was running a reelection campaign, I was alerted to some very strange discrepancies regarding some regular ads running in Haines’s only newspaper, The Chilkat Valley News. After doing much research, I filed a complaint with Alaska Public Offices Commission on October 13th:

The complaint is in response to a newspaper advertising campaign consisting of 12 ads which ran in the Chilkat Valley News during the weeks leading up to the primary election. (The ads are attached to the complaint.) Each ad contained the name and address of a Haines business at the bottom in the “This ad paid for by” line. They all had photos, some were of the candidate, some of which (like the Haines “100 years” celebration photo) were taken at public events unrelated to the candidate yet giving the impression those in the photo supported Rep. Thomas. Some encouraged the reader to “vote,” some thanked Rep. Thomas and several had quotes attributed to him…

…The name or image of Rep. Thomas was clearly present in each of the 12 ads during this election cycle.

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

An important figure in this story was one of Rep. Thomas’s Campaign Deputy Treasurers, James Studley:

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. Mr. Studley is also a Deputy Treasurer on Rep. Bill Thomas’s re-election campaign and would have been legally able to make a campaign ad purchase. However, that was clearly not the intent because (a) the proper format and wording were not on the ads, (b) while coordinating the purchase, he was not paying for it…he instructed the newspaper to bill the listed businesses, and (c) these businesses were not “individuals, group, non-group entity and political parties” — the only entities allowed to make in-kind contributions to campaigns.

On the other hand, 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.

So, like the little “bill” in Schoolhouse Rock, my little “complaint” travelled it’s own little path laid out for it by Alaska Statute AS 15-13 and Alaska Campaign Disclosure Regulations Articles 2, 3, and 6.

The first step was that the folks named in my complaint (Rep. Thomas and the members of his campaign staff) had the opportunity to respond. James Studley was the only one who did. He makes reference to the first and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution (two of my favorites) and seems to be very confused:

To which I responded in my Mudflats post:

I actually agree with Mr. Studley…the entire thing is VERY confusing. What is most confusing to me is that Mr. Studley, having been involved in previous campaigns, acted unaware of basic election law:

– Independent expenditures were already prohibited from coordination with the campaign…Citizen’s United did not change that.

– Those who do independent expenditures were already required to fill out form 15 – 6…Citizen’s United did not change that.

– If you feel that, “Filling this [required 15-6] form out, even partially is admitting that I have committed some offense…,” you probably have, whether you believe so or not.

The second step: The APOC Staff does an investigation and prepares a staff report for the APOC Commissioners. That didn’t go so well for us–the staff seemed to want to give Rep. Thomas and his staff a pass. They recommended a total “penalty” of $170.00.

The third step: The Staff Report was presented at the November 19th meeting, where I also had the opportunity to testify as to why the Staff Report was…well…wrong…:

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 public Q&A from the Commissioners to me, their staff and others that were even called (via speakerphone) to verify information was facinating. The Commissioners had some really tough questions for Executive Director Holly Hill, who claimed the “thank you ads” were no different than Mrs. Thomas paying for a “birthday ad,” or Rep. Thomas paying for an ad to sell tires. (I covered that argument in my testimony.) The Commission had 10 days to deliberate and make their decision and I had high hopes.

So I waited…and then received word that there would be a…

Fourth step — a separate deliberation on November 30th, the Monday after Thanksgiving and 10 days after the hearing. That was in Executive Session so no one got to hear. (It was around that time I also found out Exec Director Holly Hill was leaving.)

The long-awaited fifth step — the decision by the Commissioners — occurred on December 2nd. It was very good news:

ORDER REJECTING RECOMMENDATION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT ALLEGATIONS AND REMANDING TO STAFF FOR PREPARATION OF NEW INVESTIGATION REPORT

In it, many of the points I made in my testimony were reaffirmed.

So, that was back in December of 2010. In January of 2011, it became even more interesting when APOC filed it’s own complaint against Rep. Bill Thomas, on campaign finance irregularities:

Representative Bryce Edgmond simultaneously received a similar complaint (his violation was almost $4,000 less), yet somehow managed to resolve his before the legislative session which began at the end of January. However, Rep. Thomas did not and because of Article II, Section 6 of the Constitution of the State of Alaska, he could not be touched while he was in legislative session:

Section 6. Immunities

Legislators may not be held to answer before any other tribunal for any statement made in the exercise of their legislative duties while the legislature is in session. Members attending, going to, or returning from legislative sessions are not subject to civil process and are privileged from arrest except for felony or breach of the peace.

Was the delay purposeful on behalf of Bill Thomas because of that provision in the Constitution? Was it the fault of the APOC Staff that they were unable to proceed with Representative Thomas before the session, yet were somehow able to do so with Mr. Edgmon? It’s a puzzler…

So, the session dragged on until the middle of summer. I called after it was over and asked what was happening and was told they would not be proceeding until at least September. I then received documents (lets call them Step Six) at the end of Aug. prefaced by this email:

Dear Ms. Kellen

APOC Staff has entered into consent agreements will all respondents in the consolidated 10-19-CD cases. Please find attached the proposed consent agreements signed by all respondents pertaining to cases 10-19-CD (Consolidated). The consent agreements will be placed on the September meeting agenda. A hard copy of these documents will follow by US Mail.

These consent agreements are not effective unless and until they are approved by the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

If you have any questions, please let me know.

Warmly,

Martha

The “consent agreements” involved combining the complaints I filed against Rep. Thomas and his staff with the complaint APOC filed against him for campaign finance violations. It is basically a settlement agreement between APOC and the Respondents. Because the Commissioners have not signed off on the consent agrements yet, the document(s) are not available on line. I’ll give you the highlights:

The following three allegations represent all of the allegations against the Respondents. The parties are in agreement that all issues are resolved by this consent agreement.

A) There was coordination of “thank you” advertisements before and during the primary election in violation of AS 13.15.074(f)…

B) The Re-elect Thomas Campaign failed to report general election advertisements when the expense was incurred in violation of AS 15.13.040…

C) There was overfunding of the campaign account in violation of AS 15.13.116(a)(7)(C)…

TOTAL Maximum Penalty Assessed — $37,990.00

TOTAL PENALTY Penalty Agreed Upon in the Consent Agreement — $4,060.00 + Mandatory Training for the Thomases

I checked with some very educated sources to see if they think that this is a good agreement. I wanted to determine if the penalties are on par with what is normally assessed against violators. I was told that 10% of the maximum is pretty standard. The most important issue to me is that, this time, the APOC Staff held them accountable. (Plus, $4,060.00 is a lot more than $170.00!)

This will be presented and (hopefully) decided at APOC’s regular September Meeting on Wednesday at 9:45 am. I will be testifying and I’ll report back on what I say and what the determination turns out to be.

Comments

comments

Comments
22 Responses to “Almost a Year Later, APOC Will Render a Verdict on Rep. Bill Thomas”
  1. Pinwheel says:

    We must remember many, if not most, voters really don’t care about this huge decision. (The work is to register voters, educate voters of concerns that apply to each of them.)

    If the representation reflects the concerns of the population, great !!! If not, develop a change that maybe is more representative of that enormous area.

    Plenty to think about if one lives in Thomas’s district (5)?? Redistricting ??

    nem

  2. zyggy says:

    I read an article in adn this morning, looks like APOC agreed with you Linda. Great job. !!! Brava Linda.

  3. Moose Pucky says:

    The fine is a drop in the bucket for a legislator with so much power over the state budget. However, if this work raises awareness of the actions of this legislator, and others like him who abuse the system, so folks may possibly vote more intelligently in the future, kudos to you, Linda.

  4. Alaska Pi says:

    Good job Linda!
    Small isolated communities here sometimes have a harder time getting these things dealt with.
    I’m glad for my neighbors in House District 5 that your very alert self heard and saw and followed up on all this.
    You da bomb, Lady Celtic Diva wonderful person 🙂

  5. the problem child says:

    Such a good result to date augurs well. *fingers crossed*

  6. Elsie says:

    The Diva is divine, as always. Congratulations on your amazing persistence in chasing down all these mind-numbing details and holding the sleazeballs accountable. You da best.

    We look forward to tomorrow’s report. Give ’em hell.

  7. Zyxomma says:

    Too bad they don’t award the penalties to you, Linda. Well done. Keep it up.

  8. UgaVic says:

    Thanks for seeing this through. Given what I have learned here I am going to try and keep a better eye on our guys from this part of the state!!

  9. GoI3ig says:

    the APOC is one colossal joke! Rarely do they take any action, and when they do, it’s long after the horse has left the barn.

  10. AKMuckraker says:

    LKB, you are a rock star! Thank you so much for all your work on this.

  11. Dagian says:

    Wow. That’s really terrific. The only way it could improve would be if they did levy the full $37,990 on him and he had to pay up.

    But look how far it’s come and I think Linda deserves something bubbly for it.

    Bath or beverage?

  12. slipstream says:

    I think I’ll go over to the Ford dealer this afternoon and offer 10% of the sticker price on a new Ford F250. They ought to be happy with 10%, don’t you think?

  13. FAWNSKIN MUDPUPPY says:

    thank you, linda, for doing the good work.

  14. mike from iowa says:

    LKB-you have to be one remarkable woman to be willing to follow these shenanigans with pols,probably knowing in advance they will be protected by their cronies. I will tip my hat to you and if Slip ever posts first and buys beer,I will gladly tip a glass in your honor. Diligence and determination are two of your best qualities. You keep up the good fight and I will gladly keep reading. Now where did that pesky Slipstream run off to?

    • CO almost native says:

      I don’t have a hat to tip, but I’ll toast you with the glass of Fat Tire I currently have in my hand.

      *clink* Bravo! Persistence is your middle name!

  15. A better result than many get before APOC. Well done, and special props for your dogged determination to see it through.

  16. Cinquifoil says:

    ahem, of all of them, why are noticing what Tlingit from the Chilkat is doing wrong?

    Mudflats is such a forum

    • FYI — Bill Thomas is one of only a couple of the “Corrupt Bastards” that made it through. In 2006, though Mr. Thomas’s District (5) is small in population, he was the largest recipient of VECO money. All of this I learned as a result of the complaint. At the time, I was asked a question about these “thank you ads” that the Rep from Haines was running–whether I thought there was a problem. That’s how the complaint started.

      • Pinwheel says:

        Linda:

        First I must/want to congratulate you for your determination to bring this particular story to light. (Does Alaska have a ‘government in sunshine’ law?) I know some small communities have had these in the past.

        Perhaps this is a research project for students of political science, or the rest of us. I lived in the sunshine for decades. The concept is good, the implementation is extremely questionable. It is a fallacy to say that Thomas represents a small district. Before redistricting, Thomas’s district reached up to Cordova. Check the charts. One of the greatest ranges for an Alaskan legislative district. Remember Georgina Lincoln? She represented a huge area of Alaska, well.

        Not to take away anything from your effort, patience, conviction that you, Linda, have demonstrated. I celebrate your determination to ensure truth to power.

        Nancy

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