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National Republican group enters Alaska election fray

Amanda Coyne

A national group supporting Republican state legislative candidates has entered Alaska’s election fray. The Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) said that it plans on spending six figures on local Alaska races, focusing on the Senate bipartisan coalition.

The RSLC, which isn’t part of the Republican Party, funds local candidates across the country. It’s supported by individuals and a variety of businesses, including Google and Koch Industries. In August alone, the group raised more than $2 million.

Its counterpart, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), isn’t going to get involved in Alaska elections. “We have a lot of confidence in the Democrats up there and what they’re doing,” DLCC spokesperson Dan Roth said. 

In other words, Democrats are on their own when it comes to national help.

RSLC registered with the Alaska Public Offices Commission on Oct. 11 as an independent expenditure. Such groups are commonly called Super PACs. Although rules are different in different states, in Alaska such groups can contribute an unlimited amount of money if they don’t give to or coordinate with an individual campaign. They also must disclose who gives and who gets the money. 

It’s unclear whether the spending will be closer to $100,000 or $900,000. It’s also unclear what they’re going to do with all that money. Media air time is running out, and mailboxes are all but stuffed, but Matthew Walter, the group’s political director, thinks that it can help take down the handful of Democratic senators who are in tight races. RSLC has already done polling and will make its presence in Alaska known “very soon,” Walter said.

The group is involved in 40 states, but Alaska “occupies a significant priority” for the group, Walter said -- in part because the state Senate’s bipartisan coalition, currently composed of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans, “hasn’t been reflective in their actions of the voters in the state.”  

For his part, Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski, said that it was “unfortunate” that groups funded by special interests would be “pushing for even more partisanship here in Alaska.”

Most of the independent groups and PACs have so far focused on either opposing or promoting Gov. Sean Parnell’s plan to lower oil taxes as much as $2 billion a year on North Slope oil producers ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP. So far, the most moneyed of such groups is Putting Alaskans First, which supports the bipartisan coalition. As of Aug. 30 the group had raised $284,100, its biggest single contributor Barney Gottstein, who has given the group $25,000. The rest of the group’s money has come from Alaska-based unions.

The group’s chair, Vince Beltrami, who is also the president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, said that it’s still raising money.

The RSLC’s focus, however, will be on such issues as ObamaCare and the EPA. Because local politics don’t always correspond with the mood of what’s hot nationally, it has hired local talk show host Casey Reynolds as a consultant to help them through the maze of Alaska politics. It's not coordinating with the Alaska Republican Party, ARP chairman Randy Ruedrich said. It’s also paid Anchorage-based political consultant Christopher Nelson and Associates.

The group’s most recent IRS filing shows that Nelson was paid $1,548 in August and Reynolds was paid $3,097 in that month. Groups are supposed to register with APOC before spending money in a state election. Further, 10 days after an expenditure, it’s suppose to report that expenditure with APOC.

It appears that the RSLC has done neither. An email seeking details wasn’t immediately returned.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amanda(at)alaskadispatch.com