Dermot Cole

John Sturgeon, former Gov. Sean Parnell and former Sen. Mark Begich have allowed themselves to be part of a giant election fraud.

They know they are not the top three contributors bankrolling the opposition to the election reform initiative in Alaska, Ballot Measure 2. But they have allowed radio ads to keep running that falsely claim the trio are using their own cash to lead the way in opposing the initiative.

It’s a ploy designed to create the image that Sturgeon, Parnell and Begich are backing their political statements with serious cash.

Parnell and Begich each gave a measly $250, while Sturgeon spent $1,000, which hardly earns them rainmaker status.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission was to consider the case Wednesday afternoon, having decided Monday that this matter can’t wait. The case is important because if Defend Alaska Elections succeeds with this ploy, the case will destroy the important Alaska law that requires the three largest contributors to a campaign to be identified in advertising.

Had the Alaska oil industry tried a similar scam with its opposition to the oil tax initiative, the same three guys might well have been recruited to chip in a few bucks early and then be identified as the major money bags behind an opposition campaign financed almost entirely by ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Hilcorp and BP.

Regardless of what the APOC does or doesn’t do, Sturgeon, Parnell and Begich should come clean with Alaskans and announce that they want their names removed from the false disclaimer on the anti-initiative ads.

An attorney for the opposition group promoting Sturgeon, Parnell and Begich as the big spenders said the opposition group arranged to buy hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads before it had the cash on hand to pay for them.

In its impoverished state in early September, the group counted Sturgeon, Parnell and Begich as its three big money men when the ad time was booked, though the three didn’t contribute enough to buy much of anything.

By magic, the initiative opponents reserved time for a quarter-million in ads on Sept. 15, though the Defend Alaska Elections group did not have a quarter-million to spend on ads. In the two days that followed, a miracle happened and $250,000 appeared from the heavens.

Before the miracle, Sturgeon, Parnell and Begich had given token amounts to the anti-campaign. But they were the largest contributors as of Sept. 15 and the opposition group says that all of the radio ads it ordered for the entire campaign can legally claim that Sturgeon, Parnell and Begich opened their wallets.

This appears to be a setup in which the group headed by Brett Huber, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s former campaign manager, knew that he could commit to spending a boatload of cash on Sept. 15 only because he also knew that the $250,000 would arrive on Sept. 16-17.

Huber’s group claims that the APOC financial report in early September—showing the $250 from Parnell and Begich—is the one it should use to base its list of top three contributors, as it claims that was current when it reserved the ad time.

Sturgeon, Parnell and Begich have had long careers in Alaska and they must realize that they will be harmed if they don’t disassociate themselves from this election fraud immediately. That aspect of this has nothing to do with the merits of the election initiative.

While the APOC will debate whether the real top contributors should be acknowledged, this is not just a legal and ethical question.

For these three gentlemen, the cost of being part of this con job will be measured in damage to their reputations. Every ad that says they are the three major contributors is a lie. The responsibility is with them to call on the campaign to correct the record.

The real top contributors to the group opposing the election initiative are the Alaska Republican Party, the State Republican Leadership Committee in Washington and Americans for Prosperity in Virginia.

The Alaska Republican Party bestowed $50,000 on Sept. 16, without having to say exactly who provided that cash to the Alaska Republican Party. The Republican State Leadership Committee provided $50,000 the same day without having to reveal who gave it the money to send back to Alaska. The Club for Growth in Washington, D.C. provided $30,000 without having to reveal the source.

On Sept. 17, another miraculous day, Americans for Prosperity found $45,000 to send to fight the Alaska election reform plan. Northern Holdings, Inc. in Anchorage, headed by Janice Ellsworth, gave $45,000 that day.

The two-day miracle produced a haul of about $250,000, enough to pay for the ads ordered before the money arrived.

There is no political benefit in using the three names of the real top donors in its ad campaign, so Huber’s group is using Sturgeon, Parnell and Begich. That the three of them have agreed to be pawns in this manner is a real surprise and it reflects poorly on them.

And they weren’t really the top three before the real money arrived. Either Begich or Parnell should have been dropped from the list of the top three and replaced by Corey Mulder, who gave $500. But the anti-initiative group wanted to capitalize on the name recognition and political influence of Parnell and Begich, pushing aside Mulder.

The news coverage of this APOC discussion will be incomplete unless Sturgeon, Parnell and Begich go on the record and declare they either support the fraudulent scheme using their names to buy a few political points or that they have belatedly realized the error of their ways.

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