FAIRBANKS, Alaska — The city of Fairbanks, Alaska, has so far spent about $7,000 appealing a $37.50 election-law fine leveled on the mayor.
The Alaska Public Offices Commission ordered City Mayor John Eberhart to pay the $37.50 fine in May after concluding he broke a state law in the October 2013 election by sending an email on his city council email account, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports.
In that email, Eberhart, then a city council member, asked city staff to research resolutions and ordinances sponsored by Eberhart and his mayoral opponent Vivian Stiver. In the eyes of the commission, the records request equaled an illegal use of municipal resources to influence an election.
Fairbanks has paid about $7,000 during appeals, city attorney Paul Ewers said. The funding comes out of the city’s claims budget. The Fairbanks City Council held a closed-door executive session about the city’s appeal strategy earlier this month.
The city government is paying for Eberhart’s appeal costs because it’s obligated, in most cases, to defend public officials who are sued as part of their official duties under the city’s indemnification law, the newspaper reported.
Eberhart’s attorney, Michael Walleri, accuses the elections body of overstepping its power. The ruling sets a precedent that would broadly paint legitimate information requests as illegal electioneering, he told the newspaper on Friday.
“This has huge ramifications. … the (Alaska) Municipal League has been talking about this,” he said. “Any information that is received legitimately by an elected official cannot be used in an election campaign.”
In its order, the elections commission said Eberhart’s records request related to his role as a candidate and not as a city councilman because he requested only information about himself and Stiver and because he later used the research at a mayoral debate.
Walleri said Eberhart asked for the information as a councilman, to defend himself from a member of the public had been coming to city council meetings and attacking him about his record.
The city is not paying Eberhart’s legal bills in his other October 2013 election appeal, which does not relate to his city council service.
In that case, the elections commission concluded the Eberhart campaign’s occasional use of a work phone and copy machine at the Tanana Chiefs Conference office amounted to an illegal corporate “in kind” contribution to his campaign worth $384.
The commission fined him $2,884 in that case. The fine also covered a $500 check Eberhart accepted and later returned from the Cafe de Paris Catering Company. The check wasn’t considered a legal campaign contribution because it came from a corporation instead of an individual.
In the election, Eberhart beat Stiver, a commercial property owner and former councilwoman, by 1,502 votes to 1,396 votes.