With less than 30 days to go until the Nov. 6 general election, it appears Democratic candidates are out-fundraising Republicans in some of Alaska's most contentious state Senate seats.
Because of redistricting, 59 of 60 legislative seats are up for grabs. The Alaska House has had a Republican majority for years. In the Senate, however, there’s a 10/10 split between the parties. Because redistricting was led by a Republican administration, and many districts held by Democrats are now predominately Republican, the common thinking was that the GOP would easily take over the Senate, particularly with help from Gov. Sean Parnell, along with the oil industry and its allies.
Democrats have repeatedly rejected what the oil industry and Parnell call “meaningful tax reform.” Such reform includes cutting taxes up to $2 billion a year on the oil industry and Alaska's big three oil producers -- ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP -- based on the premise that such cuts would spur new production.
Thirty days before the election -- when income reports were due to the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) -- it appears Republicans might have a more difficult time than predicted. In the six most hotly contested seats, Democrats have so far outraised Republicans in all but two since the August primary.
30 days a long time
So far, PACs and so-called "super PACs" not aligned with the oil industry seem to be doing better than their Republican counterparts. (Caution: One group that’s pushing for an oil-industry tax break, the Make Alaska Competitive Coalition, doesn’t have to file with APOC. Although the coalition lists supporters on its website, it’s impossible to tell who’s giving and how much they’re chipping in.)
But remember, there are 30 days of campaigning left, which is a lifetime in the world of Alaska fundraising. Also, if you’re a business with oil industry ties that wants to donate to a group or a candidate, you might wait until after this reporting period to undercut the narrative that "Big Oil" is buying the election.
With those caveats in mind, here’s a partial list of the most contentious Senate seats up for grabs and the money raised and spent:
• Anchorage Democrat incumbent Sen. Bill Wielechowski has raised $42,235 and spent $36,368. With more than $42,000 of cash on hand at the start, he now has $52,389, which leaves him in a better position than Republican challenger Bob Roses, a former state legislator. Having raised $30,831 and spent $33,831, Roses is in the hole $8,016 (he had $5,000 in debts entering the campaign).
• Anchorage Democrat incumbent Sen. Hollis French raised $61,674, while Republican challenger Bob Bell has raised $54,357. The discrepancy is particularly surprising given Bell’s numerous fundraisers at the Petroleum Club and his long-standing ties to the business community, especially the oil industry. French has also far outspent Bell, $104,655 to $27,923. Still, because of a large amount of cash French brought into the campaign, the incumbent still has $47,286 on hand. Bell has $18,356.
• In Fairbanks, Democrat incumbent Sen. Joe Thomas is running against another incumbent, Republican Sen. John Coghill. Polls show Coghill leading in votes, if not money. Having raised $51,434, Thomas leads the fundraising race and has $35,212 left. Coghill has raised $44,379 and has $19,478.
• Also in Fairbanks, incumbent Sen. Joe Paskvan far outraised Republican challenger and former lawmaker Pete Kelly. Paskvan raised $53,615 since Aug. 30. He spent $46,298 and has $27,128 left over. Kelly raised $30,210, spent $26,255, and has $7,242 remaining.
• Back to Anchorage, Republican House member Anna Fairclough has outraised Democrat Sen. Bettye Davis by more than $6,000. Redistricting has turned this district from Democratic to Republican, and Davis is widely expected to have a hard time hanging onto her seat. Because Davis had a Democratic challenger in the primary, she had to spend money in that race, too. So far, Fairclough has raised $32,781 to Davis’ $25,295. Fairclough has $34,998 to spend. Davis is left with $32,130.
• In a seat once considered safe for the Republican incumbent, it appears that Anchorage Sen. Cathy Giessel might have a race on her hands. Challenger Ron Devon (husband of Jeanne Devon, who runs the popular progressive blog The Mudflats) is officially unaffiliated, but he’s gotten lots of Democratic support. During the reporting period from February to Monday, Devon raised a $68,599 -- including $29,000 of his own money -- compared to Giessel’s $17,859. However, she's reporting from Aug. 19 to Monday. All told, Giessel has raised $79,490 to Devon's $68,589.
Devon, whose television ads feature Alaskan stalwarts Vic Fischer and Arlis Sturgulewski, has also spent much more than Giessel. Devon has shelled out $71,386 which leaves him $2,796 in the hole. Giessel has $21,571 left.
How much have PACs raised?
As for the groups, the big money so far comes from Putting Alaskans First Committee, a super PAC that can raise unlimited funds as long as it doesn’t coordinate with a candidate or give a candidate funds directly.
Putting Alaskans First raised $284,100 since Aug. 30. The biggest single contributor is Barney Gottstein, who has given the group $25,000. The rest of the group’s money came from unions. (Conspicuously absent, however, is the Teamsters Union, which seem to be supporting Republicans these days.). Putting Alaskans First has also formed a PAC, which can give candidate funds directly. The PAC has raised about $11,000 this reporting period and still has $24,826 on hand.
Other groups have registered and made noises, but all that noise hasn’t yet translated into much cash.
Alaska Business PAC has raised $8,575 this period and has $17,395 to spend.
In past elections, Citizens for Competition, which supports both Democrats and Republicans, has raised more than $200,000. But this period it’s only raised $8,013.
The super PAC called We Are Alaska is to date funded solely by the Alaska Industry Support Alliance, but the group didn’t raise any money this reporting period. The Alliance, which supports oil-industry tax cuts, spent $64,874 of the $81,458 it had on hand, and has $16,874 left for the final stretch.
Contact amanda Coyne at Amanda@alaskadispatch.com
Clarification: Make Alaska Competitive was originally labeled a super-PAC in the story. They took issue with that label. What does and what doesn't constitute a super-PAC is still debatable, but out of an abundance of caution, we changed it to reflect MACC's concerns. Too, Ron Devon put $29,000 of his own cash into his campaign, and his reporting period is from Febuary to Monday. Giessel's reporting period is from Aug. 19 to Monday.