Politics

Congressional campaigns: Political insiders raise $1.3 million for pro-Murkowski PAC

Kelly Tshibaka, Lisa Murkowski

A group of political insiders have helped raise $1.3 million for a super PAC supporting Republican Lisa Murkowski, adding to the incumbent senator’s cash advantage over her Trump-endorsed GOP challenger, Kelly Tshibaka.

Alaskans for Lisa, led by lobbyist-strategists Jerry Mackie, Mike Pawlowski, Jim Lottsfeldt and attorney Scott Kendall, filed its campaign finance report Friday, the deadline for candidates and political action committees to disclose their fundraising numbers from the first three months of 2022.

Mackie, Pawlowski and Lottsfeldt are each registered as lobbyists at the state level, though not at the federal level. Kendall is an attorney who works with campaigns and often takes on political cases.

The PAC’s formal chair is Tom Wescott, a longtime firefighter and former union official; other board members are former Native corporation executive Barbara Donatelli, former Senate President Gene Therriault and Fairbanks attorney Joe Kuchle.

“This has nothing to do with trying to gain some advantage in Washington, D.C., because we are not federal lobbyists. We’re political consultants,” Mackie, a former state senator, said in a phone interview Friday. “The reason we support Lisa Murkowski is we have a tremendous amount of respect for her. And I believe she’s the only thing standing between us and Joe Biden’s administration shutting down resource development in the state of Alaska — we need her to work across party lines to protect our state.”

Murkowski’s own campaign, which is legally barred from coordinating with the super PAC, reported raising $1.6 million and spending $550,000 in the past three months, leaving her with $5.3 million in the bank.

Tshibaka’s campaign raised $665,000 during the same period, spent $330,000, and now has $970,000 in the bank; she also reported $95,000 in debts.

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Trump hosted a fundraiser for Tshibaka during the reporting period, but he did not personally donate to her, and her campaign, like those of other Republican candidates, paid his Mar-a-Lago Club $14,500 for “facility rental” and “catering services,” according to Tshibaka’s report.

The super PAC supporting Tshibaka, Alaska First, reported just one donation: $2,500, from Tshibaka’s father-in-law.

A Tshibaka spokesman, Tim Murtaugh, pointed out that Trump’s PAC, Save America, donated $5,000 to Tshibaka’s campaign last year. He also noted that Murkowski’s campaign raised $320,000 from corporate and other PACs, far more than the $64,000 she raised from small-dollar donors, while Tshibaka raised far more from small donors than from PACs.

“Kelly Tshibaka raised more money in the first quarter of 2022 than she did in the last quarter of 2021 and she will have all the resources she needs to defeat Lisa Murkowski,” Murtaugh said in a statement. “Murkowski’s total is poor compared to other incumbents, and she is raising money from people who can’t vote in Alaska. We are very comfortable with where this race is headed. "

The only Democrat who’d filed to run for U.S. Senate, Anchorage Democratic state Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, withdrew from the race last month.

A few of the candidates for Alaska’s sole seat in the U.S. House also had to file reports by Friday. But most of the frontrunners did not, as they filed to run April 1 — too late to be covered by the quarterly reporting deadline.

Alaskans for Lisa, the pro-Murkowski PAC, collected $75,000 from Jeff Hildebrand, the founder of Hilcorp, one of Alaska’s biggest oil companies.

American Unity Fund, which backs conservatives who support LGBTQ rights, gave $150,000. John Rowe, a former energy executive, and a group tied to a business-focused immigration reform effort he chairs, gave a combined $125,000.

And John Arnold, a Houston-based former Enron energy trader, gave $500,000.

Arnold’s philanthropic organization, Action Now Initiative, also spent $3 million to help pass the 2020 citizens initiative that overhauled Alaska’s elections system. That initiative eliminated the partisan primary system that has long proven a challenge for Murkowski: After losing the GOP primary in 2010, she had to run a successful write-in campaign against the winner, Joe Miller.

One of the Murkowski allies who worked on that initiative was Kendall, a former campaign advisor to the senator. His law firm received some $15,000 from the pro-Murkowski PAC for “legal consulting.”

The PAC also paid Strategy North Group, the firm run by Pawlowski and Mackie, $18,750 for “strategy consulting.”

Mackie is a longtime Juneau lobbyist and former state senator who managed a super PAC, Alaskans Standing Together, that was instrumental to Murkowski’s 2010 re-election.

Pawlowski worked as Murkowski’s chief of staff from 2016 to 2020.

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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