The leading candidates for governor in Alaska are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on outside experts to help them shape their message at home, campaign records show.
The two candidates have spent more than $1.2 million on their media campaigns, much of it going to professionals outside the state. Overall, Republican Frank Murkowski raised $1.5 million and Democrat Fran Ulmer raised $1.3 million from 2001 to Oct. 7, state campaign reports showed. The most recent reports, filed this week, were not yet available.
Murkowski has paid more than $593,000 to Edmonds, Hackney and Associates, a political consulting and media firm in Washington, D.C., which specializes in GOP and conservative causes.
Former Alaskan Art Hackney, who co-chaired the state's Bush presidential campaign and has worked on past Murkowski elections, is a co-owner in the firm.
Hackney moved to the nation's capital earlier this year but has continued to work for Murkowski and other Alaska Republicans while working for other notable clients such as the National Rifle Association.
Hackney's work on the Bush campaign has paid dividends more recently. The president taped television and radio ads to voters to back Murkowski.
"We are in contact with the political offices of the White House on a weekly or sometimes daily basis over issues of Alaska," Hackney said in a telephone interview.
The Bush ads are expected to resonate with Alaska voters at a time when the airwaves are being inundated with so-called "soft money" spots benefiting Ulmer, Hackney said.
Hackney's partner, Tom Edmonds, is a Washington media consultant best remembered for his biting 1998 advertisements attacking gubernatorial candidate John Lindauer. Lindauer's campaign collapsed under allegations that he was a carpetbagger running a campaign financed with $1.7 million from his wife, Dorothy Oremus, heiress to a Chicago concrete empire.
Murkowski also paid $64,381 to Strategic Events and Fundraising, a Seattle firm, hired to do campaign fundraising.
Ulmer has hired her own team of experts, including Democrat consultant Joe Rothstein, who worked on Sen. Bob Kerrey's successful 1982 gubernatorial bid and his Senate campaign in 1988. Rothstein worked briefly on Kerrey's presidential bid.
Rothstein is a former Anchorage Daily News editor who has worked for former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel and four past Alaska governors, said Jim Nordlund, Ulmer's campaign manager.
Rothstein, who also is based in Washington, D.C., has been paid at least $55,200 since the campaign began, according to records filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
"Joe is a good choice. He has a national perspective, but also he has really strong roots in Alaska," Nordlund said.
Rothstein has aided the campaign in helping write scripts for television and radio ads and generally has helped the campaign shape its message, Nordlund said.
Some of the recent electronic media spots attacking Frank Murkowski's 22-year record in the U.S. Senate have been courtesy of a Chicago firm. The Ulmer campaign paid Gragert Research $15,954 to look into Murkowski's record. The firm is headed by Dennis Gragert, who previously worked on Democrat Richard Phelan's unsuccessful bid for governor in Illinois in 1994.
Lake Snell Perry & Associates, a Washington, D.C.,-based political consulting firm, has also been paid $48,541 for its work on the Ulmer campaign.
Celinda Lake, president of Lake Snell Perry & Associates, said her role in the campaign is to do polling and offer strategic advice.
The group has advised several Democrat candidates nationwide, particularly female candidates for office, Lake said.
The group also is active in the Arizona governor's race between Democrat Janet Napolitano and Republican Matt Salmon, several congressional races, and has worked for Democratic Govs. Bob Wise of West Virginia and Gary Locke of Washington, Lake said.
Alaska has had women run for governor in past elections, but none have won. Nordlund said the campaign enlisted Lake to help combat any perceived stereotype that Ulmer cannot lead.
"The bar is much higher for women to get elected, especially to an executive position like governor," Nordlund said. "Celinda has a proven track record in helping to bust through that glass ceiling for women."
Ulmer's campaign also has paid Porcaro Communications, an Anchorage advertising firm, more than $430,000 for its advertising campaign.
Some of the money pays for the expense of placing the advertisements and some of it is paid to local film company SprocketHeads to produce the segments, said company owner Mike Porcaro.
The use of consultants isn't a new phenomenon in Alaska politics. In fact, Tammy Troyer, executive director for the state Democratic Party, said it is becoming more essential to wage statewide races.
"The performance level is much higher than it once was," Troyer said. "We have such a huge population of non-affiliated voters and those voters have to be persuaded."
Ulmer raised $1.3 million from 2001 to Oct. 7, APOC reports show. Ulmer raised most of her money - more than $954,600, in the months leading up to the Aug. 27 primary where she faced little opposition.
Murkowski raised $1.5 million from 2001 to Oct. 7, bringing in $1.1 million during the primary. Murkowski easily defeated Anchorage attorney Wayne Anthony Ross in the Republican primary.
Ulmer has generated a large block of funds from state employees and department heads - who combined to give more than $74,000 in one campaign period.
Gov. Tony Knowles, chief of staff David Ramseur, commissioners Jim Duncan and Ed Flanagan and Office of Management and Budget Director Annalee McConnell have each given the campaign $1,000, to name a few. That is the maximum possible amount allowed under state campaign finance laws.