Al Gross, an orthopedic surgeon running for U.S. House in Alaska as an independent, owns a rental property in California and part of an office building in Juneau.
One of his chief rivals, Republican Nick Begich, has six figures in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and litecoin, plus a stake worth at least $1 million in a software company he founded that now has more than 100 employees and offices in three countries.
Chris Constant, one of the Democrats in the race, is still paying off student loans.
Newly filed financial disclosures reveal huge wealth disparities that are shaping the special election between 48 candidates for Alaska’s sole House seat.
The documents, which federal law required from candidates this month, offer a glimpse of each one’s assets and business interests. They also underscore the advantages that personal wealth can bring to a congressional campaign.
Begich, who reported assets worth at least $10.8 million and as much as $46 million, has loaned his own campaign $650,000, which represents more than half the cash he’s raised so far.
Gross, meanwhile, spent $730,000 of his own money on his unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid in 2020 — a campaign that laid the groundwork for his short-notice run this year. He reported assets, some held jointly with his wife, of at least $8.7 million and no more than $23 million.
The campaign of a third candidate, Republican former Gov. Sarah Palin, on Tuesday provided a copy of a report that it said had been filed with the U.S. House clerk, though the document was not yet posted to the clerk’s database.
Palin reported assets worth at least $950,000 and no more than $2.4 million, with much of that tied to a Wells Fargo savings account that holds between $500,000 and $1 million.
The sums that Begich and Gross have each disclosed spending on their campaigns, meanwhile, represent roughly 10 years of income for Alaska’s median household.
Constant has spent just $400 on his own campaign, and reported assets valued at less than $100,000.
Wealthy candidates enjoy another advantage beyond the ability to spend freely on their campaigns, said Michael Beckel, research director for Washington, D.C.-based Issue One, a nonpartisan advocacy group that seeks to limit the role of money in politics.
They also tend to have networks of wealthier friends, relatives and professional contacts who are more likely to donate significant amounts to their campaign, Beckel said.
“If you aren’t rubbing shoulders with wealthy donors, it’s very hard to break into those circles,” Beckel said. “The odds are stacked against candidates of modest means who attempt to run for office.”
Modest income as a selling point
A half-dozen candidates in the race reported more than $1 million in assets on their financial disclosures.
They include Jeff Lowenfels, the natural resources lawyer and gardening writer who reported owning at least $500,000 in Apple stock.
Another is Tara Sweeney, the Alaska Native leader, who reported a stake worth at least $500,000 in a new Arctic-focused climate business, Seven Glaciers, which works on carbon offsets sales.
Those fortunes exceed the wealth that U.S. Rep. Don Young, whom the candidates are vying to replace, accumulated over his half-century in Congress. His last disclosure, filed in 2021 before his sudden death in March, reported assets valued at as little as $580,000.
While there are 48 candidates running in the June 11 special primary, the House clerk’s office had published disclosures from just 12 as of Tuesday. Campaigns that had filed the documents had different interpretations of the rules dictating when the disclosures were due, though the latest of those deadlines was Monday.
Candidates are only required to file the documents if they raise or spend more than $5,000 for their campaigns, and many of those vying for the seat formerly held by Young are running low-profile campaigns.
The rules also do not require candidates to list their homes as assets, unless they’re generating rental income. And the value of other assets — stocks and bonds, business interests, cryptocurrency — is reported in ranges like $1,001 to $15,000, rather than as exact amounts.
While some candidates’ list of assets run past 10 pages, Constant’s disclosure lists just two entries — his retirement accounts, each worth between $15,000 and $50,000.
He reported roughly $150,000 in earned income in 2021, from his jobs as an Anchorage Assembly member and at social services nonprofit Akeela, along with real estate sales.
Constant said his campaign fundraising efforts, which have yielded roughly $100,000 so far, have been successful, though that total trails the $370,000 that Begich has raised from others for his own House bid.
Nonetheless, Constant pitches his relative lack of personal wealth as a selling point.
“The advantage is, practically speaking, I understand what it’s like to earn a living, which is what most Alaskans experience,” Constant said. He added: “I am a working person. I don’t come from wealth.”
Mary Peltola, another Democrat running in the primary, reported less than $200,000 in assets and $89,000 in income last year from her job leading a tribal fisheries management group in her home region of Southwest Alaska.
Peltola said she’s taking unpaid leave from that position and, as she contemplated launching her campaign, had to consider whether she’d be able to make her mortgage, utility bill and car loan payments.
Like Constant, Peltola said her life experience makes her better suited to writing policies that will benefit working Alaskans.
“Our electoral system is really set up for those seats to be pursued by people who have financial security and who are most often retired,” Peltola said. “I think the majority of Alaskans, me included, live paycheck to three days before paycheck.”
Wealth as its own asset
The wealthiest candidates in the race, meanwhile, have access to personal assets far out of reach of the vast majority of Alaskans.
Gross, the orthopedic surgeon, did not respond to interview requests made through his campaign.
Begich, one of the Republicans in the race and a multimillionaire, rejected the idea that his money risks leaving him out of touch with potential constituents.
He said his family “struggled” when he was growing up, and at one point, Begich said, he had more than $100,000 in student loans, since paid off.
“I can certainly identify with the struggle that many Alaskans have right now,” he said in a phone interview.
One of the largest chunks of Begich’s wealth — between $5 million and $25 million — is invested in his 69% stake in FarShore Partners, the software business he founded around 2006.
It now has 150 employees and maintains offices in Anchorage, Chicago, Croatia and India. And counts Encyclopedia Britannica, Valspar Corp. and Northwestern University among its clients, who pay Farshore to create customer- and employee-facing software.
Begich also owns a 42% stake in another business, Dashfire Management, that advises startup companies. He reported other assets tied to the company that owns the Aviator Hotel in downtown Anchorage, a business that operates a grocery store in the North Slope hub town of Utqiagvik, several investment funds, a family publishing house and a company that owns land inside Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
In the interview, Begich said his investment and business experience would give him an important perspective in Congress.
“We hear a lot about diversification of Alaska’s economy. And diversification of the economy is going to originate from business creation,” Begich said. “This is something that I’ve spent a career doing.”
Begich also argues that his wealth itself — not just his experience accumulating it — would be helpful if he was elected. His assets, he said, insulate him from dependence on special interests or particular groups of supporters, and ensure he won’t be struggling to maintain homes in Alaska and Washington.
He said that Young, the former congressman, once described how dozens of representatives sleep in their offices at the U.S. Capitol.
“That’s emblematic of an issue that is unsustainable: It taxes the member in a way that makes it difficult for them to do great work, if they’re worried about their personal finances,” Begich said. “I’ve worked hard, but I’ve also been fortunate enough in some of my investments and business activity that I’m able to run and not worry as much.”
Palin’s campaign did not make her available for an interview about her disclosure, though it did share the copy of the four-page document.
The disclosure does not appear to indicate a substantial increase in wealth from the last time Palin was required to report her assets, during her 2008 vice presidential bid. But it does show that the former governor has several significant sources of income.
Those include her appearances on the website Cameo, which allows celebrities to sell personalized videos to customers.
Palin, whose account has a five-star rating from 465 reviews, charges $199 for videos for “personal use,” and $1,000 or more for businesses. She reported $211,500 in income from Cameo last year, and $44,500 so far in 2022.
“Website advertising” paid Palin $88,600 last year, and $56,500 so far this year, her report says.
She collected $40,000 for speaking at a fundraiser last year for A Woman’s Haven, a crisis pregnancy center in San Antonio that tries to dissuade women from having abortions.
The conservative group Club for Growth paid Palin $10,000 last year, which she said was for participating in a bus tour aimed at boosting Republican candidates in the late 2020 runoff elections for U.S. Senate in Georgia.
And a London-based bank, Coutts, paid her $6,700 last year for a “guest appearance.”
Daily News reporter Iris Samuels contributed to this story.