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No end in sight for Outside campaign ads

Sullivan's 'Alaska Agreement' remains unsigned, more ads roll out

Posted: June 17, 2014 - 11:08pm

Another advertisement from the Republican-supporting Super PAC American Crossroads is on the Alaska airwaves attacking U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, and there doesn’t seem to be any end to the Outside-funded advertising, five months before the November U.S. Senate election.

The latest ad is focused on Begich’s support of Obamacare, and it’s the second anti-Begich ad from American Crossroads to air since Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan proposed the “Alaska Agreement” designed to stop ads like this one, which are funded by third parties to support a particular candidate.

Sullivan said previously that the only way his supporters would stop their massive advertising campaigns is if Begich signed the agreement. With a week of inaction from Begich and no indication that he is reviewing the agreement, the odds of a deal seem slim at best.

“Senator Begich has campaigned relentlessly against third-party special interest groups, yet when presented with the only proven mechanism to make this happen, Begich refused to even entertain the idea — clearly showing that he won’t ‘Put Alaska First,’” Sullivan campaign spokesman Mike Anderson said in an email. “Put Alaska First” is the primary Pro-Begich Super PAC.

The Begich camp says Sullivan is not sincere about the proposal and is merely trying to score political points.

“We want a permanent resolution to this kind of spending, and that’s not a permanent resolution,” Max Croes, a spokesman for the Begich campaign, told the Empire Tuesday. Croes noted that Begich is supporting a constitutional amendment preventing unlimited spending by corporations. At least two ads on the Begich campaign’s website decry Outside influence in Alaska.

“Our opinion on Outside spending has been clear from the start,” Croes said.

Changing the U.S. Constitution is a lengthy process and not likely to happen before the November election. The only ways for an amendment to become part of the Constitution are through a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures.

“The Alaska Agreement is a simple, straight-forward proposal that has been proven to get third-party special interest spending off the airwaves,” Anderson said. “It’s also the only solution that solves the problem this election.”

By signing the agreement, candidates are asking third parties to cease advertising for themselves or against their opponents leading up to the November election. If an ad runs, the candidate who it supports or does not attack is required to donate half the cost of the ad to a charity of his opponent’s choice.

Put Alaska First has said it intends to spend $4 million on ads supporting Begich in the two months before the general election. American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which oppose Begich, have already spent more than $1 million apiece. If trends continue, Alaska’s U.S. Senate race will end up being the most expensive, per capita, in American history.

Anderson added that the agreement was not proposed to Sullivan’s opponents in the Republican primary (Joe Miller and Mead Treadwell) because they have “not been subjected to the millions of dollars in third-party special interest spending.”

“The only way for this to work is for Dan and Senator Begich to sign the agreement,” Anderson said.

For his part, Treadwell has called the Alaska Agreement a “publicity stunt.”

Begich’s decision to sign or not sign the document could impact other elections across the state where state and local candidates are having trouble securing advertising time on TV and radio. PACs have simply bought almost all the existing airtime.

“In some locations ad space is available, but the prime time ad space is very, very limited,” said Jerry Gallagher, the campaign manager for Gov. Sean Parnell’s re-election bid. “There is some available late at night, but the traditional day and time slots we might want are not available in some locations.”

He added that traditionally favorable time slots like during the news hours and college football games on Saturdays are particularly hard to come by.

According to one television executive, that may be because some stations around the state are only selling advertising for the high-profile — and pricey — U.S. Senate race.

“There are whispers that some stations are not taking any governor’s money, for instance, and that other stations are not taking any state election advertising at all,” said Scott Centers, the chief operations officer for Coastal Television, which owns three stations and eight signals.

He added that it’s “pretty obvious” that the high level of spending — which Centers estimated at between $12 million and $15 million in television advertising — is preventing Alaskans from hearing from their local candidates.

“It’s all about managing your inventory and you only have so much,” Centers said, adding that prices have increased as demand for airtime grows.

“Historically, this is definitely an unprecedented election year,” he said in terms of spending on commercials.

A call to the Democratic campaign center in Juneau seeking comment for this story was not returned.

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at matthew.woolbright@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reportermatt.

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