Backers of effort to repeal Alaska’s ranked voting system accused of campaign finance violations

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Backers of an effort to repeal Alaska’s ranked choice voting system violated campaign finance rules and obscured the source of their funding, including forming a church that could have allowed donors to gain tax advantages for their contributions while skirting disclosure mandates, a complaint alleges.

The complaint was filed by Alaskans for Better Elections, which was behind the successful 2020 ballot measure that replaced party primaries with open primaries and instituted ranked choice voting for general elections. The complaint is lodged against several individuals and groups involved in the repeal effort, including Art Mathias and Phillip Izon, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

A group called Alaskans for Honest Elections has been gathering signatures in support of a ballot measure that seeks to repeal the new voting system. The Ranked Choice Education Association is the primary contributor to the group. But the complaint alleges the association was “somehow formed as a ‘church,'” and appeared to engage in “the laundering of contributions” to Alaskans for Honest Elections.

The complaint alleges the Ranked Choice Education Association is improperly acting as an unregistered ballot measure group. It also says Alaskans for Honest Government is acting as an unregistered ballot group in support of the same cause as Alaskans for Honest Elections.

The website for Alaskans for Honest Government advocates for the repeal of ranked voting and links to the Alaskans for Honest Elections website, but Izon said the link “shouldn’t be there.” He said Alaskans for Honest Government is not acting as a separate ballot group because no money has been spent on it.

Mathias, president of the association and director of Alaskans for Honest Elections, said the complaint is “just politics and lies” but declined to answer specific questions about the allegations. Izon, another leader of the ballot measure group, said many of the allegations were a result of a misunderstanding of the rules by him and said he was willing to address that if asked by the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

The commission, which enforces campaign finance rules, will decide whether to formally take up the complaint. If it does, it will have a month to investigate and determine next steps.

The complaint was filed on behalf of Alaskans for Better Elections by attorney Scott Kendall, an author of the new voting system first used in Alaska during last year’s elections.

During a February event at Wellspring Ministries, a religious organization in Anchorage also named in the complaint, Mathias said he had contributed $100,000 to the ballot group seeking to overturn ranked voting.

But a disclosure filed with the commission in April by Alaskans for Honest Elections shows no reported contribution from Mathias. Instead, other filings indicate he funneled money to the ballot group through the Ranked Choice Education Association, which incorporated as a church in Washington state in December “to promote Christian doctrines,” “evangelize worldwide,” and “support missionary activities,” the newspaper reported.

The association website contains information about ranked voting but doesn’t mention religious activity.

Asked why the group was incorporated as a church, Mathias said “that statement isn’t correct,” but he wouldn’t elaborate. Asked if the group was created as a church for donors to gain tax benefits, Mathias said the filers of the complaint “don’t even know what they’re talking about.”

One disclosure filed with the commission shows the association contributed $90,000 to Alaskans for Honest Elections, which came from Mathias. Mathias said it was his choice not to contribute directly to the ballot group.

Izon said part of the money donated to the association was set aside in an Alaska-specific account but declined to say whether Mathias requested his contribution be earmarked for the ballot group. Izon said Mathias contributed a large donation in a lump sum in December, which was transferred to the ballot group in smaller payments over several months to meet the group’s needs.

The association’s website was previously focused on Alaska but changed in recent months to apply more broadly to other states, the complaint alleges. Izon said he is working on a book about ranked voting that he plans to distribute through the association.