APOC assesses penalty against Heartbeat of Homer

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add a statement from Heartbeat of Homer’s attorney.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission has assessed a penalty of $725 against Heartbeat of Homer – Assembly Recall, the political group that registered to advocate for recalling three Homer City Council members. In a July 20 letter, APOC claimed that Heartbeat of Homer filed Independent Expenditure, or IE, reports 29 days late.

According to APOC, in a July 10 IE report, Heartbeat of Homer reported expenditures made June 1 and June 10. Three corrected reports also show expenditures made June 12 and June 15. Political groups can report expenditures made over a short period of time, but the reports must be made within 10 days of the first expenditure, said Tom Lopez, APOC campaign disclosure coordinator. The IE reports were filed by Heartbeat of Homer chairman and treasurer Michael Fell, the organizer of the recall campaign.

Lopez said the late filing was the third strike against Heartbeat of Homer. On May 16, APOC issued a notice of violation for a late report, but because it was the group’s first error, APOC did not assess a penalty. When Heartbeat of Homer missed the deadline for another May 16 expenditure by two days, APOC assessed a $50 penalty. The fine for late reports is $50 a day, but because it was the group’s first election cycle, APOC reduced the penalty by half. It applied the same reduction for the July 10 late report.

Fell and other citizens filed a recall petition against council members Donna Aderhold, David Lewis and Catriona Reynolds, claiming they were unfit for office because they backed the so-called “inclusivity” or “sanctuary city” resolution, and that they used their office as a platform for political activism. In a campaign flyer, Heartbeat of Homer urged voters to recall the three council members and “vote yes for accountability, vote yes for responsibility, vote yes for transparency.”

The recall failed and citizens voted no by 56 percent for Reynolds and 57 percent for Aderhold and Lewis.

Lopez said APOC officials noticed the late expenditures when they reviewed the 30-day campaign disclosure report. APOC learned Heartbeat of Homer had run radio ads, but did not see that information on original expenditure reports. That campaign disclosure report showed $515 in payments to Peninsula Communications. In campaign disclosure reports dated May 16, July 10 and July 11, Heartbeat of Homer reported spending $10,339.71, including a final expenditure to zero out its income of $621.18 for “legal defense fund.”

Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the grounds for recall, claiming it violated their right to free speech. An Anchorage judge denied the lawsuit and let the election proceed.

Heartbeat of Homer had the right to defend the recall and thus could set up a legal fund, Lopez said.

“The right to have the election was challenged,” he said.

Heartbeat of Homer’s lawyer, Stacey Stone, also wrote a letter on its behalf claiming an ethics violation when the three council members voted to affirm the Canvass Board’s tally of the June 13 recall election. Heartbeat of Homer sent that letter to KBBI reporter Aaron Bolton, who reported on the complaint. City ethics rules require all parties to an ethics complaint to keep the complaint confidential.

Lopez said he would have no way of knowing if that legal fund was used to file an ethics complaint.

“I assumed this fund was created when they hired their attorney to defend the election,” he said. “I have no way of knowing if they diverted any of those monies to the ethics complaint.”

Heartbeat of Homer has appealed the first penalty of $50, Lopez said. They have 30 days to respond to the July 20 notice, and as of July 27 had not replied with an appeal or a payment.

Another political group formed in opposition to the recall campaign, Homer Citizens Against the Recall. Wendy Wayne was that group’s treasurer. Lopez said Homer Citizens Against the Recall filed all its reports on time. Homer Citizens Against the Recall received $8,389.43 in contributions and spent the same amount. It ended up with $1,455.99 in unspent contributions, and zeroed out its account by donating that amount to the Homer Foundation.

Heartbeat of Homer attorney Stacey Stone noted that a notice of penalty is not a final determination by APOC. She said the notices of penalty are being appealed to APOC.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homerenws.com.