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School bond group donors face election fines

Posted: April 22, 2014 - 11:02pm

ANCHORAGE — Donors to groups formed to support the passage of school bond issues are facing hefty fines from state election regulators.

Some, like Bob Bell’s engineering firm, could be fined as much as $19,000, he told the Anchorage Daily News.

State law says both the groups — like School Bonds Yes! and Anchorage Tomorrow — and those who give them $500 or more must file reports with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Commission officials declined to say how many people have received letters informing them of potential fines.

But Bell, who also was co-chairman of School Bonds Yes!, said his engineering firm received notice from the state agency that it was subject to a $50-per-day fine for failing to report its contribution. The letter, Bell said, noted the report was due with the public offices commission 381 days earlier.

Bell said other contributors to School Bonds Yes! received similar letters, as had members of Anchorage Tomorrow. Bill Johnson, chairman of the latter group, declined to comment.

School Bonds Yes! typically sends a thank-you note to donors, and in it includes a blank disclosure form, said the other co-chairman, Charles Wohlforth. But he said donors overlook the form.

“It’s easy to do — it looks like junk mail,” Wohlforth added.

Contributors include engineering firms, construction companies, unions and others who might benefit from work that would come from the passage of school bonds. Parent-teacher association members also contribute.

Wohlforth and Bell said these fines could deter people and groups from contributing in the future, even if they ultimately are reduced or waived.

“It’s really screwed up our ability to support these projects,” Wohlforth said. “The people that received these letters were horrified. Everybody’s basically freaking out over it. If APOC wanted to create a lot of problems with meaningless bureaucracy and scaring off people who wanted to help their community, they’ve done a great job of it.”

The public offices commission is simply enforcing the law created by the Legislature in 2002, and the agency is required to assess fines at the maximum level, said its executive director, Paul Dauphinais. However, there are circumstances when it can reduce the penalty.

Wohlforth said contributors to his group have not faced disclosure rules in the past. Dennis Linnell, an Anchorage Tomorrow board member, also said he was unaware of the filing requirement.

Dauphinais said the commission’s practices had not changed. He wrote in a follow-up email to the Daily News: “The statute is not new, and others filed correctly.”

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