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Murkowski attorney demands Begich take down TV ad touting cooperation

Nathaniel Herz

An attorney for Alaska Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s political committee is demanding that the re-election campaign of her Democratic counterpart, Sen. Mark Begich, take down a TV ad that features a photo of the two senators standing together.

Begich, who is running in a hard-fought campaign against three Republican challengers, has used the ad to tout his cooperation and frequent agreement with Murkowski, over her objections.

The TV ad depicts an Anchorage man and Begich supporter, Skip Nelson, who says he’s a lifelong Republican and voted for Murkowski.

A letter sent to Begich’s campaign Thursday morning by an attorney for Murkowski’s committee says the ad is “factually incorrect,” and that the ad’s content indicates Begich’s campaign “has an alarming lack of regard for the truth, and seeks to mislead and deceive Alaska voters.”

The letter says that while Nelson proclaims to be a lifelong Republican in the ad, he has never been registered as a Republican voter in Alaska, and did not vote in 2010, when Murkowski was most recently re-elected.

Nelson did, however, vote in 2004, when Murkowski was first elected to the Senate after being appointed to her post in 2002. In a prior interview with Alaska Dispatch News, Nelson said he comes from a Republican family and grew up playing with “little stuffed elephants.”

“I did not say ‘registered Republican,’” Nelson said. “You can be a Republican without being a registered Republican.”

The letter from Murkowski’s attorney adds that Begich’s campaign did not ask her permission to use the photo of the two senators together, which the attorney, Scott Kendall, describes as customary. 

And it says the photo was taken in Murkowski’s official Senate office, in spite of ethics rules that bar use of official Senate resources for campaign purposes.

Begich’s campaign responded that the photograph came from The Associated Press, and that the campaign paid to use it. It also pointed out that the letter from Murkowski’s attorney did not dispute the fact that the two senators vote together as much as 80 percent of the time, which is one of the ad’s central claims.

Asked if Begich’s campaign would comply with Murkowski’s request, spokesman Max Croes said: “We stand by the ad.” 

In an emailed statement, Croes added: “Alaskans have responded positively to the message that Alaska's congressional delegation works together across party lines to do what's best for Alaska.”

“Mark Begich is proud to have an Alaska veteran like Skip Nelson supporting him,” Croes said.

Kendall, the attorney for Murkowski’s committee, said in a phone interview that the problems with Begich’s ad are “numerous, and they’re unacceptable.”

“You’ve got an ad that implies an endorsement,” Kendall said. “The whole package ends up being objectionable, and we felt the need to push back.”

Kendall added the committee would consider “further action” if Begich’s campaign continues running “false ads,” though he declined to say what steps might be taken. And he acknowledged that the committee could face an uphill battle.

“Is there any way on earth from stopping a candidate from saying things that are false?” Kendall said. “Probably not -- not in my knowledge. Because they’re candidates.”