In the final stretch of the 2020 election season, Sen. Dan Sullivan and challenger Al Gross are slinging accusations in hopes of swaying voters in the final days of the race.
Sullivan, the Republican incumbent, was at one time seen as a clear favorite to retain the seat. However, Gross, an independent running with the Democratic nomination, has brought in millions of dollars in out-of-state donations with the hopes that he could win and help flip the U.S. Senate to Democratic control.
During a Friday night debate, Gross repeatedly brought up Sullivan’s family’s company. Sullivan often said Gross is dishonest, and if elected would empower national Democrats who have an anti-Alaska agenda.
The Sullivan campaign this week released what they called “the Gross Tapes,” where the candidate talks about his income as a doctor in Alaska at a 2017 event. During a Friday night debate, Sullivan repeatedly referenced grosstapes.com, the Sullivan campaign’s website hosting the video.
“My opponent has no credibility on health care,” Sullivan said before promoting the website.
Gross, in response, said he was charging the same rate or less than his local peers: The problem is Alaska’s health care system.
“That’s why I went back to school to study the drivers of health care costs,” Gross said. “When I get to the Senate, I will be the doctor that gets the public option across the finish line.”
Recently, two national publications ran stories on Sullivan’s ties to his family’s company, RPM International. The company, which makes materials like sealants and coatings, was started by Sullivan’s grandfather in 1947, and is now run by his brother.
Before the two candidates were set to debate on Friday night, the Gross campaign sent out a statement to news media that included links to the stories, published in Salon and The Intercept.
Gross repeatedly brought up the stories in Friday night’s debate, arguing Sullivan is corrupt and looking out for wealthy people like his family over Alaskans.
“Dan Sullivan’s family company — which he owns up to $5 million in stock in according to his own filings and has bankrolled his campaigns — has been exposed for doing business in China while Dan himself voted for policies that benefited the company,” Gross campaign spokeswoman Julia Savel said.
The Oct. 17 Salon article draws links between Sullivan’s stock holdings in the company, his brother’s ownership in the company and his votes on policies that impact the industry.
Sullivan owns between $1 million and $5 million in RPM stock, according to his most recent financial disclosure. According to OpenSecrets, a group that tracks money in politics, RPM is the third-largest contributor to Sullivan’s senate campaigns.
The Oct. 23 Intercept article is about an executive at a large lobbying firm who is also an independent director on the board of RPM, noting that the Pebble Limited Partnership is one of the lobbying firm’s clients. The Pebble Limited Partnership, which aims to develop the controversial Pebble mine in the Bristol Bay region, became a campaign issue after an environmental group released recordings of then-Pebble CEO Tom Collier discussing the company’s relationship with politicians, including Sullivan. Sullivan had voiced opposition to Pebble receiving a permit a month before, and firmly said he opposed it after the tapes.
Matt Shuckerow, Sullivan’s campaign manager, said the Salon and Intercept pieces are baseless and fall well short of proving a conflict of interest.
“Essentially what they are saying is Dan Sullivan shouldn’t vote in the United States Senate,” he said. “Dan Sullivan votes for Alaskans. Dan Sullivan fights hard for business, for jobs, for workers.”
For its part, the Sullivan campaign this week released clips from a videotaped event where Gross talks about his income as a doctor. Shuckerow said the 1 minute and 39 seconds of clips were from a roughly 10-minute video taken from a 2017 event for Alaska Common Ground.
“There’s a ton of money on the table, you’d be a fool not to take it, everyone else is,” Gross said in a clip used by the Sullivan campaign.
Gross goes on to say he realized he was being paid three to five times the national average.
“It’s very clear that Al Gross has spent over two decades taking advantage and fleecing Alaskans in the Alaska health care system,” Shuckerow said.
Savel, Gross' campaign spokeswoman, said the video is misleading.
“It’s abundantly clear that you cannot trust Dan Sullivan to tell the truth,” Savel said. “Al spoke about the tragedy of high health care costs. That’s why he’s running for a public option. It’s desperate and sad that they are stooping this low.”
The Sullivan campaign also had strong language for the Gross campaign’s highlighting of the Salon and Intercept articles.
“Al Gross and his campaign are floundering,” Shuckerow said. “So what are they going to do? They’re going to throw attack after attack, mud after mud, and see what sticks.”
Watch Friday’s debate between U.S. Dan Sullivan and challenger Al Gross below: