Treadwell spent big during primary to get name recognition

October 15, 2010 

Republican candidate for lieutenant governor Mead Treadwell, left, and Democratic candidate Diane Benson greet each other as returns show them leading their respective primaries Aug. 24, 2010.

MICHAEL DINNEEN / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVE

He's a millionaire, one of the richest people running for office in Alaska this year. His campaign for lieutenant governor cost nearly $600,000, half of it his own money. Yet even with that, Mead Treadwell finished the primary race almost $180,000 in debt, which drew sharp criticism from the Alaska Democratic Party.

Treadwell, 54, is Gov. Sean Parnell's running mate on the Republican ticket, and his resume leading up to his first try at elected office is long and varied. He did a stint as state deputy commissioner of environmental conservation in the 1990s during Gov. Wally Hickel's second term, but he's mainly been an entrepreneur.

Last year, his income topped $1.5 million, including $1.1 million from selling much of his interest in a dredge manufacturing business, according to the state financial disclosure he filed in May.

Treadwell said he spent big in the primary because he was relatively unknown and jumped into the race late, after Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell decided not to run. One of the other candidates, Fairbanks state Rep. Jay Ramras, was much better known and had already tapped Republican donors, Treadwell said. Plus, Ramras was putting his own money in, too.

"Most political pundits would have said that I had zero chance of winning the primary, so it was very hard to raise money," Treadwell said. "So I committed my own resources to the race."

DEMOCRATS: RECKLESS

Treadwell put about $295,000 of his money into his primary run. He collected another $128,000 in contributions. He spent $408,000 and as of Oct. 1 he owed $179,000 on top of that, mainly for campaign consultants and media production, according to his most recent filing with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

The total bill for his primary run -- what he spent and what he owes -- tops $587,000. He ended up with $13,000 in the bank, leaving his campaign $166,000 in the red.

Alaska Democratic Party officials called Treadwell's debt massive and shocking. They said it sends the wrong message to voters.

"How can Alaska voters believe the Parnell-Treadwell ticket will be fiscally conservative when Mr. Treadwell spent so recklessly during the election cycle?" Democratic Party chairwoman Patti Higgins said.

Treadwell said he's following the rules and will cover the debt personally if he and Parnell don't raise enough. State campaign regulations indicate that campaign debt can be carried indefinitely, but Treadwell said that's not the direction he intends to go.

In fact, he noted, he couldn't pay off the debt now if he wanted to. Under state law, candidates are limited to pumping $5,000 of their own money into a campaign in the 33 days before an election. The general election is set for Nov. 2.

Even if the GOP raises enough to cover the debt and more, Treadwell can only repay himself a maximum of $25,000, under the law.

According to his Oct. 4 report to APOC, his campaign owes:

• $93,000 to a New Jersey firm, Burkewood Creative, mainly for media production but including a $25,000 "primary victory bonus."

• $70,000 for consulting work from the San Diego office of law firm Foley and Lardner, including $10,000 in consulting toward the general election campaign.

• $10,000 victory bonus to consultant Barbara Propes of Girdwood, who worked on fundraising.

• $6,000 to consultant Casey Reynolds of Wasilla.

A WARMUP?

For the general election, Parnell and Treadwell started fresh with a new, joint campaign account.

Each will be responsible for raising money to pay off their debts from the primary race -- Parnell ended with a $7,000 debt, campaign spokesman Brandon Maitlen said.

In Alaska, governor and lieutenant governor candidates run separately for the primary, then usually pool their finances for the general election campaign. Treadwell and Parnell are still keeping their own primary accounts -- and responsibility for debt -- while running a joint campaign, which is allowed.

Most of the energy is going into raising money for the general election, Treadwell said.

Political observers say Treadwell may be putting so much into this race as a warm-up for an eventual run for a bigger office. Treadwell said he's just thinking about winning in November.

The job of Alaska lieutenant governor pays $100,000 a year. The main duties are overseeing state elections, citizen initiatives and commercial use of the state seal.

Treadwell said he sat down with all three GOP candidates for governor before deciding to run to make sure he'd have an active role. He envisions helping Parnell with ramping up oil production to fill the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, working for a natural gas pipeline and diversifying the economy.

RICH INVESTMENTS

As to the source of his wealth, Treadwell said he's invested for years in various businesses, and some of it paid off big last year.

One winner was Ellicott Dredge Enterprises, a Baltimore, Md.-headquartered dredge manufacturing firm. His college roommate was its chief executive. Treadwell said he became a board member in about 2002 or 2003 at a time the firm was in financial trouble. He said he invested several times over the years, and the company turned around, from a small struggling business to one with extensive global sales, he said.

Last year, Treadwell and the other investors sold a majority interest in Ellicott to Markel Corp., a publicly traded firm. He reported a capital gain of almost $1.1 million.

He also earned money last year off investments in Alaska, including $230,000 in residual income from a wireless venture that he sold in 1996.

His day job last year was as an $8,000-a-month chief executive of Venture Ad Astra, a company that invests in or develops new technologies, including the 360-degree camera technology initially used by Google in Street View and that is now used by MapQuest. He has stepped down from the top job because of the campaign, but remains involved, he said.

DUSTUP OVER OBAMA

He also reported receiving $45,000 from his part-time role as chairman of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. He resigned the post in May to run for lieutenant governor.

The Berkowitz-Benson campaign has attacked his work on the presidential commission, a policy organization that makes recommendations on Arctic research.

"It was you, Mead, not me, who worked for Barack Obama for a year and a half and provided him with the reports that he is using to shut down offshore oil exploration," Benson said in a lieutenant governor debate on the Kenai Peninsula last week, according to a summary provided by the campaign.

Treadwell said later that he was appointed to the commission by President George W. Bush in 2001, and continued to serve during the presidential transition. He called the criticism "amusing" and said he doesn't believe work overseen by the commission was used as support for Obama administration decisions to put moratoriums on oil drilling, which he disagrees with.

At the commission meeting in June, his last before he resigned to run for the state post, Treadwell urged his colleagues to push for any research needed for oil drilling to move forward, said John Farrell, the commission's executive director. According to Farrell, Treadwell said, "Let us know what the gaps are."

"I worked very hard to make sure the science advice we gave the president was not ... political," Treadwell said.

In his resignation letter, he said he was frustrated the federal government was not doing more to study two areas: oil spill response and an epidemic of suicides in rural Alaska.

Treadwell has lived in Alaska more than 30 years. He has three children -- two still in Anchorage schools. He is a widower whose wife, Carol, died of a brain tumor in 2002.


Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.

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