Leaked audio features discussion by Koch-linked groups of Begich, Alaska

Nathaniel Herz

Alaska makes a cameo appearance in a recording leaked Wednesday from a private strategy meeting in June hosted by the billionaire Koch brothers’ political network.

The recording, leaked to a liberal-leaning YouTube channel and first reported by The Nation magazine, drew national attention Wednesday based on comments from the Republicans’ U.S. Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, and three Republican Senate hopefuls.

In the recording, a pair of high-level operatives from two Koch-connected groups briefly discuss Alaska’s political climate, as well as the status of Sen. Mark Begich, who is running for re-election this year.

The next up is Alaska,” says Marc Short, the president of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a trade group that includes many attendees at Koch-hosted donor conferences, according to a transcript. “It’s a state that is very Republican. It’s a state that (inaudible), and we think this is going to be (inaudible). Of all the Democrats running right now, Mark Begich is (inaudible).”

Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group co-founded by the Koch brothers that last week kicked off a $1 million television ad campaign attacking Begich, adds: “Well, Marc, we are just hiring Americans for Prosperity staff in Alaska.”

“We have a long way to go. You know, peninsular states, whatever you do now or whatever (inaudible) the Lower 48 (inaudible) Alaska,” the transcript quotes Phillips as saying. “So this is an uphill state, even though it is still red.”

Americans for Prosperity recently hired an Alaska state director, Jeremy Price, a former staffer for Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and held a “kickoff event” in Anchorage this month. Both Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners have run TV ads this year attacking Begich.

The remarks from the conference drew sharp criticism from national and local Democrats, with the state party issuing a statement Wednesday afternoon that described the operatives’ exchange as “discussion of the Kochs’ attempts to buy Alaska’s Senate seat” for Begich’s Republican opponent, Dan Sullivan.

“Leaked transcripts from the Koch brothers’ secret meetings confirm that they are ignorant about Alaska but will spare no expense on ads for Dan Sullivan, who still refuses to criticize the Kochs’ closure of Flint Hills,” the statement quoted Alaska Democratic Party Chairman Mike Wenstrup as saying.

Wenstrup was referring to a Fairbanks-area oil refinery shuttered this year by a subsidiary of Koch Industries, the company that’s majority-owned by Charles and David Koch.

While three other prominent Republican Senate candidates attended the California conference in June -- including Cory Gardner of Colorado, who has a joint fundraising committee with Sullivan -- Sullivan was holding an in-state fundraiser in Seward that day.

Asked for Sullivan’s response, and his position on the spending by the Koch-connected groups in his Senate race, spokesman Mike Anderson emailed a statement and a link to Sullivan’s latest TV commercial, in which he presses Begich to sign an agreement aimed at limiting spending by Outside groups in this year’s campaign.

The agreement was proposed by Sullivan earlier this year, “but Mark Begich refused,” Anderson said.

“This is the only proven mechanism that would keep these Outside groups from spending in this race; it's worked before, and it can work again,” Anderson added. “All it takes is Mark Begich's signature.”

A spokesman for Begich, Max Croes, said in a phone interview that Begich supports a constitutional amendment to “permanently ban Outside groups and billionaires from being able to spend millions of dollars in elections.”

Croes pointed out that Sullivan backs the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010 in the Citizens United case that unleashed millions of dollars in spending on federal elections.

Sullivan’s support of the temporary agreement in his own race at the same time he supports the Supreme Court’s decision is “disingenuous,” Croes added.