With ballots due Tuesday in Anchorage’s municipal elections, conservative candidates for the Assembly outperformed their rivals in fundraising in most of the races across the city.
And while tens of thousands of dollars have flowed through political action committees funded by organized labor to aid moderate to progressive candidates, an independent expenditure group financed by a handful of wealthy donors is keeping up by spending heavily on a few conservative candidates. While Assembly races are technically nonpartisan, they generally break down into left and right camps. For the last several years, a left-of-center majority has held a decisive majority, with a small number of conservative members generally aligned with the Bronson administration.
Though overall spending this election cycle has not surpassed the record-setting levels seen in 2022, a small number of repeat donors are buoying a slate of right-leaning candidates running to change the Assembly’s current balance of power.
Last year was the first municipal election in Anchorage since a 2021 federal court ruling eradicated state campaign donation limits, which had capped individuals at $500 per candidate in a given year, along with other changes. That, along with a charged political dynamic between a conservative mayor and a left-of-center Assembly, pushed campaign spending to new levels, hitting a high-water mark in the race for an East Anchorage seat where two candidates raised a combined $464,312.
This year, a relatively small group of individuals are driving a lot of recent fundraising, donating chunks of money that heretofore would have been barred in Alaska elections. One example is John Ellsworth Jr., president of an oil field services company and one of the owners of the Anchorage Wolverines hockey team, who, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, gave $17,000 to five conservative candidates in March alone, most of it in $5,000 donations, ten times the previous annual limit. His wife, Kari Ellsworth, gave another $2,500.
The largest single donation directly to a campaign was $10,000 from Alaska Energy Services owner Diane Bachman to Jim Arlington, the moderate candidate in the Eagle River race running against Scott Myers, who has the endorsement of Bronson and Republican Rep. Jamie Allard, who held the seat until she was voted into the Legislature. That contribution bucks the larger trend. For the most part, candidates on the right have received bigger donations, many of them coming from a core of individuals and couples who have been trying to replace Assembly members they view as too liberal, either by funding recalls, giving to their opponents, or spending on independent expenditure groups.
One vehicle for those efforts is the group Families of the Last Frontier, which, according to its paperwork filed with APOC, exists to “Elect Conservatives to Public Office,” and in the past has received money from national Republican organizations. Since February, Families of the Last Frontier has raised $41,298, with the biggest chunk of that, $25,000, coming from Robert L. Siegfried Jr. of Delaware, head of a national company that works with financial executives. The group has spent upward of $30,000 on videos, text messages, digital ads and direct mail supporting East Anchorage candidates Leigh Sloan and Spencer Moore, as well as South Anchorage candidate Rachel Ries, and opposing their three rivals.
Conservative candidates aren’t alone in receiving support from independent expenditure groups, though. The Putting Alaskans First Committee, which backs candidates “who support working families,” has collected $52,000 from unions, spending on on behalf of moderate and progressive candidates, and $20,000 on radio ads opposing West Anchorage candidate Brian Flynn.
In five of the seven Assembly races, the conservative candidates outraised their opponents during the March reporting period, in some cases drastically so.
In the East Anchorage race to replace Pete Petersen, who is barred by term limits from running again, Moore took in $42,254, a lot of it from large donations, including $5,000 from Republican donor Lucy Bauer and $1,000 from Jerry Prevo, the former interim president of Liberty University and leader of Anchorage Baptist Temple, where Moore works as the director of outreach (it is now called Mountain City Church). His progressive opponent, George Martinez, raised $17,036 in the same period.
In the other East Anchorage race to fill out the remaining two years of Democratic state Sen. Forrest Dunbar’s term, conservative Sloan has brought in $29,755 since the beginning of March. Her progressive opponent, Karen Bronga, who has Dunbar’s endorsement, received $25,179, although overall has taken in close to $28,000 more than Sloan.
In a rarity, the first-time candidate in the Midtown district race, Travis Szanto, is outraising the two-term incumbent, Felix Rivera. Szanto, a carpenter, got a slow start fundraising after entering the race but received $38,474 since the start of March, including $500 from Anchorage First Lady Deb Bronson, along with larger amounts from prominent donors like William and Rosemary Borchardt, who heavily financed the 2021 recall campaign against the district’s other member, Meg Zaletel. Rivera received $13,477 in the same reporting period, with the largest donations coming from union political action committees.
The most expensive race this cycle is in South Anchorage, where conservatives see an opportunity to pick up the seat currently held by Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance, who has consistently acted as a check on the Bronson administration and who opted not to seek a third term. There, conservative Rachel Ries raised $33,860 since the start of March. Her challenger, moderate Zac Johnson, who has received financial support from LaFrance in the form of a $250 donation, received $30,113 in the same period, though he has taken in about $30,000 more overall. Combined, the two candidates have raised $181,289, which, while sizable by historical standards for an Assembly race, is a far cry from what was spent last year.
In the Eagle River race, Arlington outraised Myers in the latest reporting period, bringing in $27,134 to Myers’ $12,825. However, Myers has brought in significantly more in donations overall, particularly as a large portion of Arlington’s war chest is self-funded.
In the North Anchorage district, two-term progressive incumbent Christopher Constant took in $12,825 in the latest filing period, compared to his conservative challenger, John Trueblood, who received $5,933, although he has taken in just a fifth of the $76,581 Constant has raised during the course of the campaign.
Three other candidates formally running, Dustin Darden, Nick Danger, and Mikel Insalaco, have raised little to nothing in political donations.
Across all seven races, candidates have raised a total of $966,041, although that does not include spending from independent expenditure groups.
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that Zac Johnson received support from Suzanne LaFrance, not a formal endorsement.