“Homer residents, you’ve been served!” reads a flier that appeared in Homer mailboxes this week. “We the People will not be silenced.” The flier references a lawsuit filed by Homer City Council members Donna Aderhold, David Lewis and Catriona Reynolds seeking to halt the June 13 recall election targeting the three council members.
What the flier doesn’t say is who sent it and who paid for the flier. Because the flier isn’t an “express communication” as defined in Alaska Statutes, and because it is not “an exhortation to vote for or against a specific candidate,” it is not subject to Alaska Public Offices Commission oversight requiring identifying information, according to an APOC official.
“Whoever is doing this is letting people know these people are suing the city,” said Tom Lucas of APOC, and the specialist who handles political group issues. “There is nothing in there that says to vote one way or another.”
The only identifying information in the flier is the U.S. Postal Service Permit Number, 33, for Homer. A receptionist at Printworks in Homer said that is Printworks’ USPS permit number, but she said she could not reveal who paid for the “You’ve been served” flier.
In a 30-day campaign disclosure report by Heartbeat of Homer-Assembly Recall, a group registered with APOC to support the council member recall, on May 3 it paid $565 to Printworks for “mailers.”
The report does not indicate the content of the mailers.
That Heartbeat of Homer paid Printworks for mailers does not necessarily mean it paid for the suspect flier.
Michael Fell, the chair of Heartbeat of Homer-Assembly Recall, did not return an email or phone message asking him if his group paid for the “You’ve been served” flier or was responsible for sending it out.
Since April 21, Fell has made $2,462 in contributions to Heartbeat of Homer-Assembly Recall and is the only reported contributor. That also is the amount of expenditures made by Heartbeat of Homer-Assembly Recall, for expenses like T-shirts, advertisements in the Homer News and Homer Tribune, flier and mailers, and flags.
Lucas said that if Heartbeat of Homer-Assembly Recall paid for the anonymous flier, it would have to report that expenditure, even though it did not have to put “paid for by” information on the flier.
“If they were paying for it, you can infer they had an intent of affecting the election, but the way the statute reads their intent is irrelevant,” Lucas said.
Ron Keffer, chair of Homer Citizens Against the Recall, a group opposing the recall, condemned the anonymous mailer.
“I’m dismayed to see a mailer like this,” he said. “If we mail something out, everyone in this town will know who it’s from and who paid for it.”
According to the 30-day expenditure report by Homer Citizens Against the Recall, the group has spent $1,046.24 on things like yard signs, fliers, bumper stickers and rental of voter registration records from the Alaska Democratic Party. Keffer said his group rented the information from the Democrats because it’s a good database. The Republican Party doesn’t rent its information, he said. Yard signs opposing the recall seen around town do have the “paid for” information required by APOC, including names of major contributors.
All of the contributions to Homer Citizens Against the Recall come from individuals, with donations ranging from $499 from Keffer and artist Rika Mouw to $0 from poet Erin Hollowell for creating a Facebook page.
Lucas said although creating a Facebook page has no monetary value, it should be reported as an expenditure and contribution. Anything exhorting people to vote one way or another should be reported.
“The actual value of doing that is minimal, but what’s important is transparency,” Lucas said.
People simply sharing information on Facebook don’t have to register with APOC, Lucas said.
Facebook pages exhorting a vote also should include “paid for” identifying information in the “about” section of the page. Facebook has several pages relevant to the recall, Make Homer Kind Again and No Recall Homer, opposing the recall, and Homer Council Recall, supporting the recall. No Recall Homer is the only page that identifies the organization behind the Facebook page. No Recall Homer is the page Hollowell set up and includes “paid by” information showing Homer Citizens Against the Recall set up the page.
Lucas said Alaska law does grant an exception for reporting for individuals who act independently of other groups or candidates and spend less than $500 in a year on billboards, signs or printed material — but not electronic media.
The “You’ve been served” flier is similar to another anonymous mailing sent out in late April targeting Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and other legislators who supported a state income tax. Lucas said that was an “issues communication” mailing and thus not subject to APOC regulation. In writing election law, the Alaska Legislature had constitutional freedom of speech concerns and created an exception for people to write on issues if not directly exhorting someone to vote a specific way, he said.
Keffer made the same comparison between the “You’ve been served” flier and the anti-Seaton flier.
“It had the same format with no attribution,” he said. “I immediately trashed it. It matters who it is trying to tell me something. If they’re being secretive about who they are, that makes me think their purposes are nefarious.”
Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds filed their lawsuit with assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union, Alaska. They allege the grounds for the recall are insufficient and that their sponsorship of controversial resolutions objected to by the recall group is protected as free speech. The anonymous flier doesn’t mention the ACLU except for a 1935 quote by ACLU founder Roger Baldwin in which he says “Communism is, of course, the goal.”
ACLU Executive Director Joshua Decker dismissed that criticsm.
“The ACLU is the most respected civil society organization in America with a long, proud track record of defending the U.S. and state constitutions against attacks from across the entire political spectrum,” he said in an email. “That these mailers are anonymous says all anyone needs to know about their credibility.”