State election officials have barred the national Republican Governors Association from sending out any more mailings such as the pro-Sarah Palin cards that have been arriving in mailboxes across Alaska for the past few weeks.
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The Washington, D.C.-based association said the mailing wasn't illegal; but they don't plan any more anyway.
The Democratic party of Alaska brought the complaint to the Alaska Public Offices Commission after 120,000 postcards began arriving in mailboxes featuring a smiling Palin and reasons to vote for her.
Besides issuing a restraining order, APOC found "reasonable cause" to believe that a violation of state elections law had occurred and decided Tuesday to hold an expedited hearing into the complaint in late November.
Outside groups are not allowed to participate in Alaska campaigns in the 30 days before elections, said Brooke Miles, the commission's executive director.
The RGA maintained that the mailing was legal because it had been mailed two days before the 30-day cutoff period.
"The RGA's mailing went out Oct. 6, that's when it occurred, it cannot now be restrained by the board unless it is going to put somebody in front of every mailbox," said Charlie Spies, RGA group's legal counsel.
Democratic party attorney Jeff Feldman said he agreed with Miles that illegal campaigning takes place when such mailings arrive, not when they are sent.
With only a 30-day quiet period, the date of arrival, not the date of mailing, is what matters, he said.
"The RGA's interpretation of the statute, quite honestly, renders the statute a joke," he said.
Spies offered to make a voluntary pledge to do no more such mailings, but the commission voted unanimously to move ahead with the matter on an expedited hearing and issued the restraining order.
The RGA spent $66,000 on the mailing, Spies said in response to questions from the commission. There was no coordination between the Palin campaign and RGA, he said.
Kay Brown, spokeswoman for the Democratic Party, said she was happy the commission had found good cause to move forward.
"We wanted the issue to be addressed so people would have the opportunity to hear about it during the election, rather than when all is said and done," she said.
Spies denied having tried to skirt the law by mailing postcards so close to the deadline that they'd arrive within the prohibited window.
"The RGA attempted fully to comply with the law," Spies said.
The governors association called the commission for guidance and never got a return call, he said. Miles said no one on her staff remembers receiving such a call, which would have automatically been forwarded to a senior staff member.
Pat Forgey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.