Alaska's legislative candidates, political parties and interest groups are about to start a four-week advertising blitz leading into Election Day, Nov. 8.
The candidates and groups will have a lot to say about themselves, and their opponents. But just as revealing are the reports each one must file with state regulators a month before the election, disclosing how they raised and spent their money.
The reports, which were due Monday, contain a trove of details — from the cost of the kelp salsas one candidate used to lure donors to a fundraiser to the five-figure contributions made by lobbyists and business leaders to the Alaska Republican Party. Here are eight highlights from the reports filed over the last several days.
* Telecommunications company GCI and its executives are not shrinking from their budget-reform campaign that failed to prod the Alaska Legislature into action earlier this year. They're now directing cash to state-level candidates and groups, with chief executive Ron Duncan, Chief Operating Officer Greg Chapados, and two company board members each giving $5,000 to the Alaska Republican Party in August. More than two dozen company officials also gave a total of more than $10,000 in August to North Pole Republican Sen. John Coghill, who's running for re-election against former Fairbanks borough mayor Luke Hopkins, a Democrat.
* One of the most generous donors to this year's legislative candidates is Lynn Reinwand, the wife of lobbyist Jerry Reinwand, whose clients include unions, petroleum company Tesoro, and other corporations. Lobbyists themselves are barred from donating to candidates running outside the lobbyist's own legislative district. But Lynn Reinwand has given $11,000, $500 at a time, over the last year to 17 different candidates, with some donations on consecutively numbered checks. All but three of the recipients are current members of the Republican-led majorities in control of the House and Senate — the rest are GOP candidates. Lynn Reinwand, who lists her occupation as "retired" or "homemaker," didn't respond to a request for comment. Jerry Reinwand, reached by phone, referred to a 1997 opinion from the state's campaign finance authority that says lobbyists' family members are free to make donations to any candidate as long as the lobbyist "does not direct or control their contribution activities." "She's pretty independent," Jerry Reinwand said, referring to his wife.
* Other lobbyists made big contributions to the Alaska Republican Party, which has in turn dispensed cash to candidates — as much as $10,000 in the case of Coghill. Among the lobbyists who gave to the GOP: Heather Brakes, who gave $4,000 and whose clients include a meat company and a trawl fishery industry group; Ray Gillespie, who gave $4,000 and whose clients include AT&T, the city of Kodiak, the Alaska branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Delta Airlines; and Kent Dawson, who gave $3,000 and whose clients include native corporations, mining companies and Princess Tours.
* Attorney and former Anchorage mayoral candidate Dan Coffey has formed a new political group, The Truth Alaska, that will support conservative legislative candidates, much like the super PACs that support congressional candidates at the federal level. Coffey is working with GOP political consultant Art Hackney and Bruce Schulte, an Alaska Republican Party district leader who Gov. Bill Walker fired from the state marijuana board earlier this year. Coffey said he was asked to form the group by a "client," who he wouldn't identify. But the same day The Truth Alaska was registered, the group said it received a $10,000 donation from the state's commercial and industrial construction trade group, Associated Builders and Contractors. Some of Coffey's past clients include GCI, Xpress Lube, First National Bank of Alaska, and developer JL Properties. Coffey wouldn't reveal how much he hoped to raise and spend for his group, but, he said: "If you know me, I'm not a piker, nor am I shy. So, I'm trying to get as much as I possibly can."
* A business-backed group has signaled that it's likely to spend money on behalf of a Republican legislative candidate, Bob Sivertsen, who's running against an incumbent independent House member from Ketchikan, Dan Ortiz. The chair of the group, the Accountability Project, is linked to a new political action committee, Southeast Voters for Bob Sivertsen, that formed Monday. The Accountability Project has reported five-figure donations from transportation company Lynden, the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, and the Republican State Leadership Committee, a corporate-backed GOP group based in Washington, D.C. Some of the Accountability Project's money went to support similar political action committees in the state primary election, backing conservative challengers to a pair of moderate Republican incumbents, Paul Seaton of Homer and Jim Colver of Palmer. Seaton won; Colver lost.
* The Ketchikan incumbent who's being challenged by Sivertzen, Dan Ortiz, paid his daughter $3,000 for campaign work this year. Ortiz, who's running for his second term, said his daughter, Lucy, has a "good political sense and was part of the campaign staff when she was here." She's no longer on the payroll, Ortiz added, saying that she's since been hired as a teacher.
* Other candidates made big investments in their own campaigns, including Vince Beltrami, the Alaska AFL-CIO president who's running as an independent against incumbent Republican Cathy Giessel for a Southeast Anchorage state Senate seat. Beltrami, who earned $160,000 in 2014, according to the AFL-CIO's tax filings, donated $10,000 to his own campaign.
* Candidates use all manner of enticements to bring out donors to fundraisers, but few rival the refreshments offered at a Juneau fundraiser last week for Ortiz and Sitka Democratic Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins. Kreiss-Tomkins' report revealed that his campaign spent $220 on "kelp products" for the event. The candidate is an avid booster of kelp's potential; he sent a reporter a text message with a YouTube link to the scene from the 1967 film "The Graduate" in which Dustin Hoffman's character is told that "there's a great in future plastics." "Except I think kelp is the future," Kreiss-Tomkins said.