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Inside the Outside dollars in the Senate race

National businessmen backing Sullivan, Senate Democrat allies funding Begich

Posted: July 16, 2014 - 12:02am

National Republicans are spending millions in Alaska to discredit and oust democratic incumbent U.S. Sen Mark Begich, but with the control of the Senate at stake in November, they aren’t the only ones writing big checks.

Allies of Senate Democrats have funneled more than $4 million to a pro-Begich super PAC (Put Alaska First) that has just one Alaska donor, and the right-wing super PAC opposing Begich doesn’t list a single Alaskan on contribution lists dating back to last year. As both sides claim the support of Alaska voters and decry Outside spending, the disparity between words and reality is important to consider.

According to the FEC, about $5.75 million — not counting money spent by the campaigns themselves — has been spent in support of all candidates in the race so far.

Alaska Republicans still must choose between former Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and 2010 nominee Joe Miller, but the rest of the country isn’t waiting and has tabbed Sullivan as the challenger.

At least, that’s what their checkbooks indicate.

The vast majority of the Sullivan and Begich campaigns are being bankrolled by Outside dollars, reveals an Empire analysis of the candidates’ filings to the Federal Election Commission through the end of June.

Donations from individual Alaskans make up just under 13 percent of the funds raised by Sullivan’s campaign, and that number only increases to 14.6 percent for Begich.

In fact, from when Sullivan entered the race late last year through March this year, he received more funding from Florida ($282,650) and his home state of Ohio ($460,175), than he did from the state he seeks to represent ($233,877).

While the percentages aren’t much different for Begich, the number of Alaska donors on the Begich side vastly outnumbers those supporting Sullivan with their wallets. More than 5,000 Alaskans have pledged money to Begich, according to campaign spokesperson Max Croes.

From January 1, 2013, to March 1, 2014, Begich received about $100,000 more from donors in Washington, D.C., California and New York combined than he did from Alaskans.

 

Decrying, accepting the money

During a recent campaign tour that took Begich to rural Alaska, the concept of opposing and fighting against Outside spending was solidified as a rallying cry of pro-Begich Alaskans. It’s also been a staple of campaign emails.

“Dan Sullivan and his allies continue to believe they can buy Alaska’s Senate seat by writing million-dollar checks without looking Alaskans in the eyes and sharing the dangerous special interest agenda they support,” Croes wrote in a June email.

Citing campaign policy, Croes declined to comment Tuesday when asked about the Senate Majority PAC funneling more than $4 million into Alaska in support of the ranking Democrat.

While the Begich campaign has focused its advertising on responding to attack ads and connecting the senator’s work on Capitol Hill to results in Alaska, the Sullivan camp has spent far less on TV advertising while anti-Begich ads from American Crossroads air in a steady stream on the Alaska airwaves.

American Crossroads is spending millions Outside, but the super PAC employs Art Hackney, who recently worked at the helm of a pro-Sullivan super PAC that has not made significant purchases in recent time — a fact that Alaskan Democrats say makes American Crossroads Sullivan’s de facto super PAC.

Since 2013, seven individuals have pushed $5.75 million into the American Crossroads bank accounts, and that’s without considering a number of other super PACs that have run ads supporting and attacking both Begich and Sullivan this year. The list of seven also doesn’t include big-name politcal benefactors like Rove and the Koch Brothers.

“Groups like Crossroads accept limitless amounts from billionaires and operate with no transparency to guise their attempts to buy Alaska’s senate seat without setting foot in Alaska,” Croes said. “Karl Rove and the Koch brothers will stop at nothing — including paying Maryland actresses to pose as an Alaskan and dumping millions into TV ads to drown out Alaska voices.”

 

A proposed end

In early June, Sullivan proposed a gentlemen’s agreement between himself and Begich called the “Alaska Agreement” that aimed to keep Outside interests from buying up the Alaska airwaves.

The agreement was based on a similar concept employed in the 2012 U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts: By signing, candidates ask third parties to cease advertising for their chosen candidate or against their opponents. 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.

Without any prior notice of the proposition, Begich hesitated to respond. Third-party advertisers pounced as Sullivan told the Empire that he wouldn’t call on Outside spenders to quit buying ads unless Begich did the same.

The day after Sullivan proposed the agreement, a new attack ad against Begich hit the airwaves.

“Dan believes these third-party ads have no place in this election, which is why he proposed the Alaska Agreement to Begich,” Sullivan campaign spokesperson Mike Anderson told the Empire in a text message. “This agreement is the only proven way to stop these ads, but Begich flatly refused. If Begich had any interest whatsoever in stopping these ads, he would join Dan and sign the Alaska Agreement.”

Begich, a supporter of changing the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that enables this kind of funding, opposed the agreement because he didn’t believe the proposal was genuine, or that it would have an effect on this election. He wasn’t the only one — Sullivan’s primary opponents Joe Miller and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell also criticized the agreement as a political ploy.

Still, the Sullivan campaign maintains that isn’t the case.

“These ads can stop anytime ... all it takes is Mark Begich’s signature,” Anderson said.

The Begich campaign points to Sullivan’s support of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling which allows this kind of limitless funding of super PACs as a hypocrisy and says Sullivan should support changing the law, not just his race.

• 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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