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Governor’s spending on ads to boost supporters and confront rivals surpasses $35,000

JUNEAU — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has spent more than $35,000 this year on an online and print advertising campaign to promote his agenda, encourage allies in the Legislature and criticize opponents, according to advertising disclosures by Facebook and figures provided by the governor’s office. Earlier this year, the governor’s office spent more than $9,000 on radio ads to encourage public testimony in step with his position on Permanent Fund dividends.

The spending, which is paid for from the accounts of the governor’s office, has outraged some lawmakers who contrast the governor’s spending with his decision to veto $444 million from the state’s operating budget, citing budget troubles. At least one of the Republican lawmakers targeted for praise from Dunleavy asked the governor’s office to take down the ad.

“He’s literally taking food and life-saving medicine away from seniors, claiming that we can’t afford it, at the same time using public money for political ads,” said Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage.

In response to questions about the advertising campaign, Dunleavy press secretary Matt Shuckerow said the ads are intended to inform Alaskans and encourage them to get involved with the state’s political process.

“These forms of communication all represent an effort to inform Alaskans on the issues of the day and how best to remain engaged on items of critical importance, including issues such as crime and public safety, the budget, the Permanent Fund Dividend, and a permanent fiscal plan for Alaska,” he wrote by email.

Lawmakers have a different view. They say the ads, which appear to support legislators aligned with the governor’s views of the budget, are unprecedented action by a sitting governor.

“Have you ever seen anything like it, Bryce?” asked Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, in a May interview with the Daily News.

“No, not anything like this at all,” replied House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, in the same interview. “(As) somebody who worked in the Capitol throughout the ’90s, and I’ve been a legislator for well over a decade — I’ve never seen an administration employ tactics like this, and especially, apparently using state funding to do it.”

Since February, the governor’s office has operated three Facebook pages that have spent a combined $30,387, according to Facebook’s advertising disclosure system:

• The page “Repeal SB 91” has spent $8,173;

• The page “Cap Government Spending” has spent $3,312;

• and “Restore the PFD” has spent $18,902.

In an ad that ran through June 24, the PFD page run by the governor’s office said, “Lawmakers need to know you support a full PFD this year. Use this tool to contact your elected official now.”

The ad linked to a legislative-contact system set up by the governor’s office. While Dunleavy has said he supports a dividend paid using the traditional formula in state law, a majority of the Alaska Legislature has voted for a lesser dividend at various points in the year. There remains no agreement on the amount of this year’s dividend.

Earlier this year, ads negatively mentioned the dividend stances of Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, and Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage. Other ads criticized legislation introduced by Wilson that would have required a future change to the Permanent Fund dividend formula in order to pay a traditional dividend this year.

A Facebook ad purchased by the office of Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy praising state Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage. (Facebook)

In a series of ads published shortly before Dunleavy announced his budget vetoes, his “Cap Government Spending” Facebook page urged Alaskans to thank Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage; Rep. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage; and Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River, for their stances on the state budget.

All three are members of the House Republican minority, and their support is thought to be necessary to undo the governor’s vetoes because for any such measure to pass, it would require some members of the minority to vote in favor.

“What an outrageous waste of public money,” Fields said. “Clearly there are almost zero Alaskans who support the governor’s budget, so he’s resorting to spending public money on these misleading ads.”

Shuckerow, writing on behalf of the governor’s office, said, “The Office of the Governor places a great deal of priority on scarce financial resources, particular in the face of budget deficits, but believes dollars allocated to inform Alaskans are well-spent and are in-line with other efforts and actions taken by Governor’s offices.”

Merrick said she was not aware of the ads. Revak did not respond to requests for comment through the House minority press secretary or by cellphone.

Rasmussen said, “I was told about it, and I actually messaged (Dunleavy’s) chief of staff, and I said I really appreciated their support but it didn’t make sense given the state’s financial situation.”

She said she asked the governor’s office to take down the ads, and according to Facebook, they were.

After the vetoes, the governor’s office began sending paper mailers to voters in the district represented by Revak and the district by Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage.

The mailers were first reported by Jeff Landfield of the political blog The Alaska Landmine. Images of the mailers show they urge voters to call Costello and Revak to thank them for voting for a “full PFD” and “a smaller budget” among other things.

“The printed communications represent only one small part of the Governor’s Office outreach to Alaskans. This form of communication was used in a limited capacity to measure whether or not it was an effective way to communicate with Alaskans,” Shuckerow wrote.

Costello said she was not aware of the mailers. Asked whether she believes that kind of advertising is appropriate, she said, “I’m not really able to comment on that right now.”

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