JUNEAU — A national Republican group donated $3 million last year to support the reelection of Gov. Mike Dunleavy, newly released campaign finance disclosures show.
The donation from the Republican Governors Association is bigger than the amount raised by all governor candidates combined through the start of February, and Dunleavy’s opponents say it appears to be deliberately timed to avoid new disclosure rules required under Ballot Measure 2, which voters approved in 2020.
“They purposely hid the source of this corporate money,” said former legislator Les Gara, who is running for governor as a Democrat.
The donation was among campaign finance documents published Tuesday, the deadline for candidates and campaigns to publish financial information at the start of the 2022 campaign year.
New rules, which require contributing groups to disclose the “true source” of their money, went into effect Feb. 28, 2021. The money from the Republican Governors Association arrived three days before that deadline.
The group has a long history of supporting Republican governors in Alaska, but campaign finance records indicate the timing is unprecedented. Since at least 2006, the group has always donated within weeks of a primary election or general election.
Because of the change in timing, the donation is listed only as coming from the RGA, instead of any individuals or corporations that provided the money to the RGA in the first place.
“If it’s an aberration, a change of behavior, you’re going to have to wonder,” said Wasilla state Rep. Christopher Kurka, who is running as a Republican for governor.
The RGA did not address a question asking about the timing of the donation and whether it was deliberately intended to bypass the new disclosure requirement.
Joanna Rodriguez, deputy communications director for the RGA, said the donation is similar to ones the group has made to support other incumbent Republican governors, and the group likes the way Dunleavy has opposed “federal overreach.”
“It’s Gov. Dunleavy who has stood firm and fought back against the Biden administration’s encroachments, and we’re going to be very proud to support his reelection however he needs,” she said.
Dunleavy spokesman Andrew Jensen said he was unaware of the donation before being contacted by the Daily News. Third-party groups, like the one that received the RGA donation, are prohibited from coordinating with candidates.
“Obviously, the governor appreciates the support of the RGA,” Jensen said.
Governor candidates report fundraising totals
Tuesday was the deadline for governor candidates to disclose their fundraising totals through the start of February, the start of the campaign year.
Candidates for office this year are operating under new donation limits. Under a federal appellate court ruling and interim guidance from the state’s campaign regulator, an individual donor can give up to $1,500 per candidate, per year.
But because governor and lieutenant governor run as a single ticket, the effective maximum donation is $3,000 — $1,500 for governor, and $1,500 for lieutenant governor.
Seven people have signed up to run for governor so far — the deadline to sign up is June 1 — but they began their campaigns at different dates, not all have lieutenant governor candidates, and those who do have running mates announced them at different times.
Political consultants say the most informative number in these early filings is the number of unique contributions, because it may indicate how broad a candidate’s support is and how hard they have been working on their campaign.
Former Gov. Bill Walker, running as an independent, raised $667,943.91 through Feb. 1, the most of the seven governor candidates. Gara was second, with $533,583.50, and Dunleavy third with $311,380.24. Kurka raised $100,268.01, and the other candidates in the race reported negligible amounts or nothing.
“This report is critical for a couple of things,” Walker said. “It shows the kind of momentum that a deeper campaign has, and also it shows how hard campaigns work.”
Gara had 1,981 donations overall, Dunleavy had 1,887 and Walker had 1,347, according to figures provided by the various campaigns.
“Les Gara — mad props, mad props. That is an unbelievable amount of money and effort. Mad props,” said Joelle Hall, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO has not yet endorsed a candidate.
“That is somebody who is busting his ass, doing the work,” Hall said. “Think about how many phone calls that represents that he has done.”
Jensen, from Dunleavy’s campaign, said the incumbent governor had the most donations from donors contributing between $5 and $200, “so while the governor certainly in the overall number is behind, in this period, he is ahead in connecting the small donors, whereas, his opponents are obviously trying to probably hit their biggest donors.”
Gara sees things differently, saying he believes Dunleavy intends to rely on third-party support, funded by donations like the one from the RGA.
“I think we have the broadest support of any campaign,” Gara said. “Clearly, the governor is going to rely on Outside money, Outside corporate money, and billionaire money, and I hope the public understands that it’s an Outside campaign.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that a campaign spokesman said Gov. Dunleavy’s campaign had the most donations from people contributing between $200 and $500. The correct range is between $5 and $200.