Complaint alleges Dunleavy violated ethics law by auctioning breakfast at Governor’s Mansion

Gov. Mike Dunleavy waits for guests at the annual Christmas open house on Tuesday, December 10, 2019 in Juneau, Alaska. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

A nonpartisan group that advocates for transparent government has alleged that Gov. Mike Dunleavy violated state law when an Alaska Republican Party fundraiser auctioned a breakfast with Dunleavy at the Governor’s Mansion in Juneau. 

The Alaska Public Interest Research Group submitted a letter to Attorney General Kevin Clarkson’s office on Tuesday asking for an investigation into whether the auction violated the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act

The Dec. 6 fundraiser was billed as a party unity gala. 

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State ethics law prohibits the use of state facilities for partisan political purposes. It allows two exceptions for the mansion: meetings to discuss political strategy and the use of “communications equipment … so long as there is no charge to the state.”

AKPIRG Executive Director Veri di Suvero said the auction appeared to be a clear violation.

“Our concern is that the governor granted and secured Alaska’s public assets for partisan political fundraising purposes,” di Suvero said. 

Di Suvero said Dunleavy must be held accountable. 

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“At its core, this is an issue of transparency, of ethics and ensuring that Gov. Dunleavy doesn’t go unchecked in continuing a pattern of unethical actions and increasingly no transparency,” di Suvero said. 

Di Suvero also questioned Dunleavy’s handling of and statements about the Medicaid dental program; his statement that the state could backfill some of his line-item vetoes with federal CARES Act money; political advertisements that are among of the grounds listed in the recall campaign against the governor; a no-bid contract received by the grandson of a supporter of a group that backed Dunleavy’s election; and a proposed change to the state’s ethics rules. 

Anchorage resident Matt Thorpe won the $6,000 auction and said he felt it was handled appropriately. 

Thorpe said he hadn’t had a breakfast or other meal with the governor since then, and doesn’t really intend to. While he said he supports the governor, he said his participation in the auction was about supporting the party. 

“My whole reason for doing that is not that I wanted to have breakfast with the governor or anything — I was supporting the Republican Party,” said Thorpe, adding that he’d rather have a meal with his children. He added that he would have given a $6,000 check to the party if it asked for one. 

Alaska Republican Party Chairman Glenn Clary said he was disappointed the group filed the complaint. He said the breakfast would fall under the legal exemption for political strategy meetings at the mansion. 

Clary also said the party used the gala to raise funds for party operations, rather than to benefit the governor or political candidates. 

“They’re saying that the governor is using his position as governor and the mansion for personal gain, for political gain, to support candidates and all, and none of the money supports candidates,” he said.  

The law AKPIRG alleges was broken says a public officer may not use state facilities for partisan political purposes, which it defines as benefiting or harming either current or potential candidates or a political party or group. 

The governor’s office referred questions to the Department of Law. 

In a statement, Assistant Attorney General Maria Bahr noted that complaints filed under the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act are confidential until the initiation of formal proceedings. 

Bahr said  whoever discloses the existence of a complaint to the media or press violates state law. 

Di Suvero noted that former Attorney General Dan Sullivan, now a U.S. senator, wrote an opinion in 2009 that “speech by a citizen charging government officials with breach of a code of official conduct is political speech accorded First Amendment protection.”

Bahr also said that any complaint against the governor, lieutenant governor or the attorney general would be forward to the Alaska State Personnel Board. The law allows the board to hire an independent counsel to investigate complaints against the governor.