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Group of Republican lawmakers resurfaces allegations against Al Gross campaign manager

Allegations of misconduct against Al Gross' campaign manager are again surfacing after a group of Republican legislators wrote a letter to the Alaska Democratic Party, detailing the allegations and expressing disappointment that David Keith remains with the campaign.

Gross is running as an independent for U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Dan Sullivan, but has the Democratic nomination.

The Gross campaign said it strongly denies the allegations. Both the campaign and the Alaska Democratic Party said the resurfacing of the allegations is a political stunt in the weeks before Election Day.

Keith, who has worked on a number of Democratic campaigns nationwide, was alleged to have sexually harassed women and otherwise behaved inappropriately while working as campaign manager for Wisconsin Democrat Randy Bryce. He was working for Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC when the allegations surfaced in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article in June 2019.

The Journal Sentinel reported that Keith was accused of making sexually inappropriate comments, making derogatory comments about women and gay people and engaging in angry outbursts. The accounts were from seven unnamed sources, some of whom worked on the campaign. Keith, through his lawyer, denied the allegations at the time. The Journal Sentinel subsequently reported in July 2019 that Keith had left the group. He joined the Gross campaign later in 2019.

The letter was written by Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla; Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer; Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage; Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River; Rep. Sharon Jackson, R-Eagle River; Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer; Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla; and Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer.

“The prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault continues to be an issue that plagues our state and so many of our communities,” the letter said. “As elected officials, we have a responsibility to work together to find solutions to confront this scourge in order to create a safer and healthier Alaska ... As such, we write today to express our extreme disappointment in learning that Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate Al Gross hired and continues to employ a political operative, a Mr. David Keith ...”

Gross campaign spokeswoman Julia Savel on Thursday strongly denied the allegations.

The letter asserts Keith was fired; Savel disputes that and says he left on his own.

Savel worked on the Bryce campaign with Keith, where she was the highest-ranking woman and the union steward.

“I came to Alaska to help David flip Alaska and give them a true independent senator,” Savel said. “I would have done no such thing if I thought a single one of those baseless allegations were true. They are simply not.”

Savel said she worked with Keith every day, and would have been notified of such complaints.

“It is a shame that Republicans are using baseless allegations and not actually listening to people who lived the experience with David in Wisconsin,” Savel said.

Campaign finance reports show Keith received his regular salary from the PAC until May 31, 2019, then on July 24, 2019 he received a sum notated as “salary/separation.” On July 31, 2019 he started receiving a salary from the Gross campaign.

The letter from the lawmakers references an August 2019 letter from the Alaska Young Democrats to the Alaska Democratic Party expressing concerns over the same allegations regarding Keith’s behavior. The letter stated in bold at the end that the intent was not to bring about a termination of employment, but to ensure a safe working environment in Alaska politics.

Attempts to reach leadership at Alaska Young Democrats about the letter last year have been unsuccessful.

Alaska Democrats pushed back on the letter Thursday.

“The November election will be here in less than a month, and the sudden interest of these Republican legislators in a staffer on a Senate campaign which is directly threatening the reelection chances of their current candidate seems thoughtfully timed,” party spokeswoman Jeanne Devon said in an email.

“I have had nothing but cordial and professional engagements with Dr. Al Gross and his entire campaign staff, including David Keith," Alaska Democratic Party Chair Casey Steinau said in a written statement Thursday. "I addressed the AKYD letter a year ago as the AKYD’s have noted publicly, the legislators can take a look at October 2019 press articles.”

Savel said if the Republican women who wrote the letter cared about the women on the campaign, they would reach out to the women on the Bryce campaign to ask about working with Keith. Instead, Savel said, they’re using it as political ammunition.

“They are doing this as a political move in the final quarter of a Senate race," she said.