ANCHORAGE - A lot of potential Alaska Republican donors are staying out of the U.S. House race before the primary.
Many contributors are keeping their checkbooks closed until after the primary, said Marc Hellenthal, a pollster and consultant who in the past has worked for the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Don Young.
"When you've got people that are 30-year-plus (incumbents) it's smarter to sit on the fence than pick a horse that doesn't win," Hellenthal said. "The big problem with Don is that he used the money he was given for legal fees. That's not why people contributed to him. So that created incredible uproar amongst the money group."
Young since early 2007 has reported spending more than $1.2 million in campaign funds on legal expenses related to a federal investigation or investigations.
Young's opponents in the Aug. 26 Republican primary, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell and Kodiak Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, have not raised much Alaska money either.
LeDoux is sinking her own money into the race. Parnell is relying on funding from the Washington, D.C., anti-spending group Club for Growth. Business interests, Lower 48 Indian tribes and lobbyists are largely financing Young.
Curtis Thayer, a former Young aide and longtime Alaska Republican activist, said Alaska donors have a tough choice between Young and Parnell, who enjoys the backing of Gov. Sarah Palin.
"If you support the lieutenant governor, the governor comes with that support, so that's one thing. But if the congressman ends up winning ..." Thayer said. "Neither of them are raising lots of money. People are holding their powder."
Young contends that the Club For Growth is propping up Parnell while opposing federal funding for Alaska.
"The Club for Growth is one of the most extreme groups in Washington, D.C.," Young said at a debate last week. "This is a group that does not want to spend any money on Alaskans, period. To me that's wrong. A congressman must represent the people of Alaska, not some special interest group in Washington, D.C."
Parnell said his difficulty in raising large campaign contributions in Alaska is not because of a lack of support.
"The large-dollar donors are concerned about the potential vindictiveness of the congressman," he said last week.
Parnell has raised $165,000 in individual contributions bundled through the Club For Growth, according to the Anchorage Daily News. That is more than half of all the money he's raised. The Club for Growth has also launched anti-Young ads.
The Club for Growth wants to slash federal spending and eliminate earmarks, the spending directions inserted in budget bills that Young and Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens have used to steer billions to the state.
"I'm not opposed to earmarks, I'm opposed to earmark abuse," Parnell said. "And the abuse of the process where earmarks are dropped in without public scrutiny, tarnishing Alaska's reputation."
Parnell said Young is getting his campaign money from industry political action committees and they will want something in return.
"That's primarily what Don Young's war chest is made of, is political action committees and gaming interests from Puerto Rico and Louisiana and the like," he said.
LeDoux has put $250,000 of her own money into the primary race. She said she's the alternative in a flawed field.
"Sean, I think, is hopelessly naive when it comes to the earmark process, what a congressman or -woman is supposed to do," LeDoux said. "Or if he's not hopelessly naive, then he's simply pandering to this Club for Growth. I mean, a congressman is supposed to be working on ways to bring projects to this state."
LeDoux said Young is tarnished by scandal, noting that Congress asked for an investigation into how a Young earmark in Florida was inserted into a spending bill after it had already passed but before it went to the president for his signature.
"When your colleagues in the Congress ask for an investigation of you, things don't bode well for Alaska," LeDoux said. "That means people are kind of distancing themselves, people in Congress, and those are the folks that are going to be deciding Alaska's fate."
Young maintains he has not done anything wrong and has the seniority, experience and connections to stand out from the other 434 members of the U.S. House and be effective.