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Fabricated fundraising invite trumps up attack on Begich, foments fracas

The Alaska Democratic Party has asked the National Republican Senatorial Committee to apologize for what appears to have been a fabricated attack on incumbent Sen. Mark Begich. Loren Holmes photo

Who in the Alaska Republican Party made up a fake fundraising invitation that led a national Republican group to attack U.S. Sen. Mark Begich? Or was the invitation fabricated by someone else? Those are questions being asked by the campaign to re-elect U.S. Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska after the National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a guilt-by-association press release, blasting Begich for raising funds in state last week with that "cap-and-trade liberal," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand from New York.

Only one problem: There were no fundraisers with Gillibrand, the Begich campaign says. Now the national group has apologized, sort of. But it says it won't retract its statement because it argues the essence of the material -- that Gillibrand is working to put Begich back in office -- is true.

The flap arose as Republicans, believing Begich is vulnerable, work to paint him as out of step with red-state Alaska. Though Gillibrand earned a reputation as a centrist when she served in the House, the National Journal labeled her one of the most liberal senators in 2012.

What email?

A spokesperson with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a group registered with the Federal Election Commission as a National Party Committee dedicated to electing Republicans, said it was forwarded the invitation from someone at the Alaska Republican Party's central committee, a group of about 80 members. The spokesperson wouldn't say who provided the email.

Peter Goldberg, the new chair of the Alaska Republican Party who is working to improve its reputation after a period of unrest, initially said he's been focused on moose hunting and wasn't aware of the fracas. But after getting up to speed on the topic, he later said he has no idea who sent the email.

"Whoever sent it does not represent the party and did not talk to me first," said Goldberg, who added that Gillibrand is against guns and bad for Alaska.

The Begich campaign says the vaguely worded invitation -- sent by the committee to reporters and seen by the Begich campaign -- was obviously fabricated. The blatant errors and omissions should have been clear to anyone, said Susanne Fleek-Green, Begich's campaign manager.

One big oversight: Begich and Gillibrand weren't in Anchorage when the alleged event was to have occurred on Friday, Aug. 30. In addition, whoever created the invitation failed to say at what address the fundraiser would be held, or at what time the event started.

"We've been doing this long enough that had we actually had a fundraiser we would have told people what place and what time," said Fleek-Green. "I don't feel comfortable saying this is fraud, but it was clearly fabricated to make it look like Senator Begich was campaigning with her."

Gillibrand flew into Alaska that Friday afternoon at 3 p.m., on her way to a congressionally sponsored trip in Asia, Fleek-Green said. Begich had arrived from Fairbanks so the senators could attend a Begich-hosted roundtable at 4 p.m. on curbing sexual assault in the military, held at the Anchorage office of the non-profit organization Standing Together Against Rape.

Gillibrand, sponsor of a bill that would increase the likelihood of penalties for sex-assault crimes in the military, attended the event at Begich's invitation. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, also attended.

That night, the three senators had dinner with military leaders and others from Congress who were headed to Asia, Fleek-Green said.

Begich and Gillibrand had no other meetings together, she added. They didn't travel around Alaska raising money, as the NRSC claimed in its release, Fleek-Green said.

Striving for accuracy

The Alaska Democratic Party, in a letter dated Thursday and addressed to the Republican groups, demanded a retraction.

"Alaskans want this campaign to be run based on the issues and who will fight for our state, not phony emails, events and press releases," said Democratic Party chair Mike Wenstrup.

NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring said his group strives to be accurate.

"We do not want to put out information that is incorrect, and if there was no fundraiser there was no fundraiser and we're sorry for the mistake. But we were under the impression there was and we had this email saying there was," said Dayspring, speaking from Washington, D.C.

But the group won't retract the press release because the underlying point still stands, he said. "She's still spending a lot of time trying to get him reelected."

Dayspring said Gillibrand has sent emails to raise funds for Begich, whose competition could be either Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell or Joe Miller, Republicans who will likely face each other in the primary next August. Dayspring, asked if he would send those fundraising emails to Alaska Dispatch, said he'd try to track them down and do that. But none have been sent.

Fleek-Green said Gillibrand has sent no such emails.

Gillibrand has not done an email or a fundraising event for Senator Begich, she said. "Not that it really matters because (Dayspring's) assertion doesn't make up for the fact that their new release was flat out wrong and the email was fabricated."

Dayspring sent follow-up emails to the Dispatch slamming Begich as favoring a carbon tax -- another claim the Begich campaign denies. Also, Dayspring said that Gillibrand's Empire PAC has donated $4,000 to Begich.

Interestingly, the national committee's press release never mentioned details about the lunch fundraiser. Asked if the Republican committee itself had made up the email to cover its tracks, Dayspring said that was a "ridiculous assertion."

"Perhaps Mark Begich's campaign is used to making up facts to cover their tracks but we do not," Dayspring said. "Liberals like Kristen Gillibrand continue to raise money for Senator Begich because they know he votes with President Obama 94 percent of the time." 

Fleek-Green said the fake email and the response were out of line. "This isn't how you campaign," she said.

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com