In Anchorage mayor’s race, Bronson closes fundraising gap, positioning campaign for runoff with large cash war chest

Mayor Dave Bronson has largely caught up to his chief campaign rival in terms of fundraising and is barreling towards a likely runoff election in the strongest financial position of the field.

With a little more than a week before ballots are due back to Anchorage election officials, the campaigns filed their latest fundraising reports Tuesday, which cover a critical three-week period in March when many voters are researching candidates and casting their votes.

Between March 2 and 23, the Bronson campaign brought in $66,063 in direct donations, nearly all of it from individuals chipping in small chunks of $500 or less. As of Wednesday, the campaign has raised a total of $350,080. That is slightly below the $399,711 raised by former Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance, who has so far been the dominant challenger to Bronson in terms of prominent endorsements and financial support.

But Bronson now has a significant cash advantage, having paid far less than LaFrance on staff, advertising or direct mail to voters. So far, Bronson has only spent about half of what his campaign has raised. The LaFrance campaign has spent a total of $305,348 on her candidacy, with $93,230 in cash left on hand and around $39,000 in outstanding debts. That lead in cash could prove a meaningful advantage for Bronson if, as many election-watchers and strategists expect, he emerges as one of the top two vote-getters in April and advances to the May runoff, when candidates scramble to run a compressed campaign. The month-long sprint generally works by burning through vast sums of money to keep voters engaged enough to cast ballots all over again and win converts who’d previously cast ballots for vanquished candidates.

In the same March time frame two other prominent candidates, former Anchorage Economic Development Corporation leader Bill Popp and former Democratic legislator Chris Tuck, raised $27,475 and $9,294, respectively. Popp, however, took in one significant $20,000 donation from property management magnate Dean Weidner. Both candidates spent heavily on local TV and radio ads during March.

Though Bronson spent close to $10,000 in March on radio ads, his campaign’s biggest expenditure listed in public reports was $12,823 to a Utah-based political firm for consulting services, direct mail, and polling.

One source of support boosting LaFrance’s campaign is spending by outside groups. The raft of endorsements she won early on in her campaign from labor unions are not just symbolic: The independent expenditure group collecting five-figure union donations, the Putting Alaskans First Committee, spent $55,570 on the municipal election in February, according to an APOC filing. Most of that money went to digital and radio ad placement, as well as direct mail. To the extent those expenditures are itemized in campaign finance reports, they are generally spent opposing Bronson and in support of LaFrance, as well as supporting three school board incumbents running to keep their seats. The group reported taking in a total of $200,000, though according to AFL-CIO Chair Joelle Hall, who heads the entity, only a portion of that will go towards the Anchorage election, with the rest being put to use in local and statewide races later in the year.


Two other registered groups are also backing LaFrance and the same three school board candidates. Planned Parenthood Votes Alaska, the political action committee for the reproductive healthcare provider, and 907 Action, the spending arm of a small organization billing itself as an “Alaska-based government watchdog organization,” have each spent $10,000 so far.

The Alaska Democratic Party has also formed a group that’s so far spent $8,000 on digital ads against Bronson.

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In 2021, Bronson received huge sums from similar outside entities, which poured money into the runoff campaign. No similar vehicle for financial support of his candidacy has materialized at this point in the election, though local election-watchers believe one may come together to back him in a runoff. One of the few registered groups putting resources behind Bronson’s re-election bid is Alaska Family Action, which has spent just under $1,000 promoting conservative candidates in the local election through email and a printed voter guide distributed to congregations at two large churches.

Down ballot, the three school board incumbents, all of whom are aligned with the progressive-leaning majority, are either evenly matched or outperforming their challengers.

Similar to the mayor’s race, school board elections are area-wide, meaning voters from Girdwood to Peters Creek weigh in on all candidates, as opposed to the district races that determine Assembly seats.

For Seat E, incumbent Pat Higgins trails challenger Kay Schuster for total funds raised: Higgins had brought in just $25,000 to Schuster’s nearly $40,000. Higgins works in human resources with the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska. Schuster is a special education educator with the Anchorage School District who unsuccessfully ran for school board twice before. A significant portion of her support came from a single $15,000 check she received earlier this year from just one donor, John Haxby of Anchorage. She’s also reported contributions from many of the state’s most prominent conservative activists and politicians. She last ran for school board in 2017, where she came within 100 votes of winning against current board member Andy Holleman.

In the Seat G race, incumbent Carl Jacobs has far outraised his opponent, first-time candidate and salon owner Chelsea Pohland. Jacobs, a compliance analyst for Southcentral Foundation and a therapeutic foster parent, reported nearly $68,000 in donations throughout his campaign, while Pohland had received just over $15,000. However, during the three-week March reporting period, the two were neck and neck, both bringing in roughly $9,000. Many of Jacobs’ bigger donors included local unions and political action committees, including IUOE Local 302 and IBEW. Pohland has received financial support from many of the same prominent local conservatives who are backing Schuster’s candidacy, including former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka and Anchorage state Republican Rep. Tom McKay.

Incumbent board member Dora Wilson has also taken in far more in contributions than her challenger for Seat F, first-time candidate Angela Frank. Wilson, a community outreach manager with IBEW Local 1547 and a therapeutic foster parent had raised over $60,000 by the final week of the election; much of that support also coming from local unions, teachers and teacher union members. Frank, a state employee who works as a local government specialist, has raised less than $5,000 and has not filed any fundraising reports with the state.

Daily News reporter Annie Berman contributed.

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Zachariah Hughes

Zachariah Hughes covers Anchorage government, the military, dog mushing, subsistence issues and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. He also helps produce the ADN's weekly politics podcast. Prior to joining the ADN, he worked in Alaska’s public radio network, and got his start in journalism at KNOM in Nome.