Politics

Alaska Native corporations endorse Sweeney for Congress, and form super PAC to boost her campaign

Arctic Encounter, Arctic Encounter Symposium, Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center, Pinnacle, Tara Sweeney

Alaska’s biggest Native-owned corporations have endorsed Tara Sweeney’s bid for U.S. House, and have set up a super PAC to boost the former Trump administration official and Arctic Slope Regional Corp. executive.

“Alaskans for TARA” — True Alaska Representation Alliance — was registered as a super PAC Tuesday with the Federal Elections Commission.

It will campaign on behalf of Sweeney, a Republican. She is one of 48 candidates running in the June 11 special primary election to temporarily fill the U.S. House seat previously held by Don Young; she will also run in the regular election for a full two-year term.

Sweeney is Iñupiaq and grew up in Utqiagvik, on Alaska’s North Slope. She served as assistant secretary for Indian affairs in the Interior Department in former President Donald Trump’s administration.

Before that, she worked as executive vice president of external affairs at Arctic Slope Regional Corp., and co-chaired the Alaska Federation of Natives. Her mother, Eileen Panigeo MacLean, served in the Alaska Legislature.

The new super PAC can raise and spend unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions and individuals on Sweeney’s behalf, though it’s barred from coordinating its efforts with Sweeney’s campaign.

The ANCSA Regional Association, a group that consists of the chief executives and presidents of the state’s 12 regional Native corporations, is leading the effort.

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The regional Native corporations, including companies such as ASRC, Sealaska, Nana and Bristol Bay Native Corp., are major political and economic forces in Alaska. They are six of the state’s eight largest companies when ranked by gross revenue, according to Alaska Business magazine.

It’s unusual, though not unprecedented, for the association and its members to get involved in congressional races. In 2010, its members gave $1 million to Alaskans Standing Together, a super PAC backing GOP U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s write-in campaign in the general election against tea party Republican Joe Miller.

“Alaska Native corporations are economic and political powerhouses. Just as important, they are able to communicate with their shareholders in a more authentic way than traditional political campaigns,” said Sarah Erkmann Ward, an Anchorage communication and strategy consultant. “So, ARA’s involvement is significant in that it provides not only financial backing, but also on-the-ground support that can result in votes.”

Sweeney understands rural and urban Alaska and knows how to work effectively both in Washington, D.C. and Alaska, said Kim Reitmeier, ARA’s president.

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The super PAC, she added, will try to boost Sweeney’s name recognition and educate Alaskans about the state’s new system of voting: a nonpartisan, open primary where the top four candidates advance to a ranked choice general election.

“We have a lot of work to do in a very short amount of time,” Reitmeier said in a phone interview.

Reitmeier would not discuss the details of her group’s pre-endorsement deliberations, nor would she say whether the decision was unanimous.

Several political insiders will be involved in the super PAC, according to Reitmeier. Those include lobbyists Mike Pawlowski and Jerry Mackie, along with attorney and political strategist Scott Kendall.

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The super PAC does not have a defined budget, but Reitmeier said she hopes it will reach at least six figures, if not seven. The group is also soliciting support from entities beyond Alaska Native corporations, she said.


Nathaniel Herz

Nathaniel Herz is an Anchorage-based journalist and a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He’s been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at ADN and Alaska Public Media, and has written for FasterSkier.com, The Washington Post and others. Read his newsletter, Northern Journal, at natherz.substack.com

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