Ulmer violates campaign finance law

Posted: Monday, February 25, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- The gubernatorial campaign of Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer had to refund about $3,600 in campaign contributions collected last month in violation of state law, and turn a fund-raiser last week into a ''meet and greet'' session to avoid another violation.

State law bars campaign fund-raising for statewide offices in the capital city while the Legislature is in session.

Ulmer campaign spokeswoman Deborah Bonito said 22 refund checks were sent out Friday to donors who contributed during a Jan. 29 fund-raiser in Juneau.

''We're not making an excuse, but it was a total oversight on our part,'' Bonito said.

The law was passed in 1998 after Republican Sen. Robin Taylor of Wrangell complained that he was barred by a 1996 campaign law from raising money in Juneau for his bid for governor that fall while Gov. Tony Knowles could go after contributions for his reelection bid.

The water was muddied when the Alaska Supreme Court ruled later in 1998 that a ban on contributions to legislators during the session was unconstitutional. But a 1999 opinion by the Alaska attorney general's office concludes that the prohibition on soliciting or accepting contributions in Juneau for a statewide office during the session remains valid.

Ulmer campaign workers became aware of the violation when the Alaska Public Offices Commission called Wednesday morning about a scheduled Ulmer fund-raiser in Juneau that night, according to Bonito.

The event was changed to ''a meet and greet'' session with no exchange of money, she said.

The return of the checks likely means there will be no enforcement action by the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

''We're not planning any kind of actions,'' said Brooke Miles, director of APOC. ''We will apprise the commission of that activity and what the campaign has done to remedy it. That will probably be the extent of it unless the commission directs the staff to begin an investigation or if a third party files a complaint.'' No complaints had been filed as of Monday, she said.

Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Republican Party of Alaska, said Ulmer's violation wasn't an innocent oversight.

''My assessment is she was breaking the law and she knows she was breaking the law,'' he said. ''I would find it tremendously improbable, in as observant a group as they purport to be, they would be unaware of this.''

Exchanges of campaign-violation allegations are common in high-profile races.

But fund-raising issues generally don't generate much public interest, said Gerald McBeath, political science professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, unless the violations are particularly blatant, as was the case with 1998 Republican gubernatorial nominee John Lindauer.

But McBeath said that the Alaska Public Offices Commission, which collects campaign data, is underfunded. ''The watchdog agency barely has enough personnel to take the forms when they come in and process them,'' he said.

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