Alaska liberal and moderate legislative candidates see fundraising leads in key races

Progressive and moderate candidates for the Alaska Legislature had a sizable fundraising advantage in key races one month out from the election, according to financial disclosure documents posted online last week, which could help determine whether Republicans or bipartisan coalitions hold the balance of power in the state House and Senate.

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Matt Claman is running for a seat currently held by Republican Sen. Mia Costello. He was ahead by just under five percentage points for the West Anchorage Senate seat after August’s primary election.

Claman has raised more than $70,000 since August and $208,000 since his campaign began, which has promised to be the blockbuster legislative race this cycle. Claman has spent $129,000, leaving him with $83,000 on hand for the final push to the Nov. 8 general election.

“I’ve been working hard and contacting supporters,” Claman said. “So I’m very pleased to have the kind of support that you see in the fundraising report.”

Costello has reported bringing in $60,000 over the past two months. Due to his earlier fundraising lead, Claman had $45,000 more on hand than Costello one month out from the election.

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The disparity in funding seen in Costello and Claman’s race has been mirrored in other key legislative contests, favoring the more liberal candidates. Incumbents and newcomers are both seeing a big monetary advantage in key races.


“I’m not declaring victory by any means,” said John-Henry Heckendorn, the founder of the Ship Creek Group, which helps advise and run left-leaning campaigns, after the reports had been posted.

In midtown Anchorage, Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson had $58,000 on hand 30 days from the election after outstanding debts while Republican challenger Kathy Henslee, who previously ran for state House and the Anchorage Assembly, had $28,000.

Josephson finished one vote behind Henslee in the primary after being paired in the same district with Democratic Rep. Chris Tuck due to redistricting. Tuck is not running for reelection but he endorsed Josephson, who estimates that roughly 80% of the redrawn district is new to him.

Engineer Donna Mears, a Democrat, reported raising $40,000 since August for an East Anchorage seat currently held by fellow Democratic Rep. Liz Snyder, who is not running for reelection. Former legislative staffer Forrest Wolfe, her Republican opponent, brought in $6,700 over the same two-month period.

Mears finished less than one percentage point ahead of Wolfe in the primary election. She has spent almost five times more than him over the past two months, leaving her with $37,000 on hand compared to $10,000 for Wolfe. The seat went to Snyder by 11 votes two years ago.

In Muldoon, Republican Rep. David Nelson raised $5,000 since August, which Heckendorn described as “anemic” for an incumbent. Democratic challenger Cliff Groh, a former prosecutor and legislative aide, raised $78,000 over the same period, which included giving his own campaign $50,000.

Nelson had $13,000 one month out from the election. Groh had $81,000 with $20,000 in outstanding debts.

UAA history teacher and community council member Lyn Franks, who lost against Nelson by 95 votes in 2020, raised $27,000 over the past two months, leaving her with $14,000 on hand in the three-way race.

Only 10% of registered voters turned out for the Muldoon primary, which was the lowest primary turnout statewide. As a Democrat, Franks is encouraging voters “to rank the blue” after finishing with 21% of the primary vote behind Nelson on 40% and Groh on 38%.

Strategists from across the political spectrum expect that control of the 40-seat Alaska House and the 20-seat Senate will be decided by a handful of races in Anchorage and Fairbanks. There are expected to be a majority of Republicans elected to both legislative chambers but the party has been split with sharp ideological divides on key issues like the Permanent Fund dividend, meaning it could be a challenge to hold the party together.

Democrats are expressing cautious optimism that they can keep a bipartisan majority coalition in the House with moderate Republicans and independents and form one in the Senate. Republicans cautioned not to read too much into the fundraising totals.

“I’m very optimistic,” said House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton, a Wasilla Republican, as the GOP strives to form majorities in its own right. She noted the disparity in fundraising, but said the gaps for conservatives were not too concerning.

“It’s not always money that wins the race,” she said. “There’s a lot more that goes into it.”

Jim Matherly is living proof of that. He was outspent two-to-one in 2019 when he ran for reelection as the mayor of Fairbanks, but he still won. He said he is “feeling very confident” as he hopes to repeat that to unseat Democratic Sen. Scott Kawasaki.

Matherly reports having $16,000 on hand one month out until the election, but Kawasaki has almost four times as much after reporting that he spent no money on his campaign since August.

This is Kawasaki’s eighth election, but he’s never outperformed the leading Republican at a primary election and has always come from behind in November. The Fairbanks Democratic senator finished just under five percentage points ahead of Matherly in August’s open primary, which saw success for moderates across the board.

Republican Alex Jafre is also running in the three-way race with Matherly and Kawasaki. His latest campaign disclosure document showed he had $112 on hand one month out from the election. He got 6.8% of the primary vote.


Jim Lottsfeldt, a long-time political consultant who typically works on progressive campaigns, said he was equally surprised and perplexed by the trend of left-of-center candidates beating their conservative opponents in fundraising.

“I’m sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop,” he said. “And to expect some sort of Republican money effort to show up.”

Claman’s latest campaign report shows several checks for $1,000 from unions and individual donors, but dozens of smaller donations from inside and outside of his district. Costello’s biggest recent donations include $6,250 from the Alaska Republican Party and a $5,000 check from GOP donor Lucy Bauer after the state’s $500-campaign contribution limit was struck down last year.

But Costello reports fewer individual donors than Claman, which is a pattern repeated across key races between conservatives and liberals. Some Alaska political consultants theorize progressives could be benefiting in a surge of donations after Roe vs. Wade was overturned in June.

Heckendorn didn’t know why liberals have been out fundraising their opponents. He said liberal newcomers had been successful in getting their names out to constituents and establishing themselves as viable candidates, which then encouraged more donations to come in.

He pointed to Fairbanks where Democrat Maxine Dibert, a teacher, brought in over $57,000 since August compared to $22,000 for Republican Rep. Bart LeBon, leaving her with more than double the cash on hand than the incumbent.

LeBon won by just one vote in 2018 and was 23 votes behind Dibert in August’s primary election. Far-right Republican candidate Kelly Nash raised $650 since August and had $420 on hand one month until the election after finishing with 25% of the primary vote.

Independent expenditure groups

Putting Alaskans First, an independent expenditure group, is helping to boost Claman and oppose Costello by pouring over $45,000 into the race and calling her too extreme for West Anchorage. The group, similar to a SuperPAC at a federal level, is prohibited by law from coordinating with candidates it supports.


Joelle Hall, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, is running the pro-labor group, which has formed each election year over the past few cycles. It had raised $679,000 and had spent over $400,000 one month out from the election. A recent $40,000 donation from Sealaska Corp. added to the group’s fundraising tally.

One of the group’s biggest donors is the state’s teacher’s union, but this year, an influx of funding has come from Outside organizations and donors that want to protect the state’s new ranked choice voting and open primary system from being repealed as well as protecting automatic voter registration. Former Gov. Bill Walker has received funding from the same sources.

”We think coalition government works well for Alaska,” Hall said, explaining that there is often an overlap between moderate legislative candidates who support workers’ rights and are inclined to join coalitions and those who support Alaska’s current election system.

Putting Alaskans First has spent over $40,000 to boost moderate Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River, as she runs for an open Senate seat against conservative GOP Rep. Ken McCarty. Another $40,000 has gone to support former Republican Senate President Cathy Giessel as she runs again for a South Anchorage Senate seat against conservative incumbent Republican Sen. Roger Holland and Democrat Roslyn Cacy.

The group is also giving significant support to boost the campaigns of Dibert, Eischeid, Mears, Kawasaki and several other liberal and moderate legislative candidates. It recently spent $50,000 to oppose Dunleavy’s reelection bid.

Alaska Policy Partners, Inc., a conservative independent expenditure group, is boosting candidates to advance “free-market principles in the political process.” It has been dwarfed in spending by Putting Alaskans First, but it reports having doled out $110,000 to support Republican candidates, including Wolfe, Nelson, Matherly, McCarty, Tomaszewski, and Holland.

The group’s major donations include $25,000 from Jesse Sumner, a Republican member of the Mat-Su Assembly running for state House from Wasilla, $25,000 from donor Lucy Bauer and $22,000 from a defunct Fairbanks tourism business, which had been run by lodge owner Fred Vreeman.

The Alaska Center’s independent expenditure group had raised over $110,000 by the end of September with $75,000 coming from Farhad Ebrahimi, a climate activist from Massachusetts. It has also backed progressive and moderate legislative candidates.

The Alaska chapter of the American Leadership Committee is another progressive expenditure group opposing Republican candidates for office. It has spent $70,000, with its funding coming from the national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

A spokesperson declined to comment, but its website states that it is intent on protecting abortion access in Alaska, which has been a leading issue driving left-leaning voters to the polls.

“We cannot allow extremist anti-choice politicians to start chipping away at our fundamental freedoms,” the group said. “We must vote like our freedoms depend on it.”

Early voting begins Oct. 24 and the deadline to register for an absentee ballot, which can be done in Alaska for any reason, is Oct. 29. Fifty-nine of 60 legislative seats are on the ballot for the Nov. 8 general election due to redistricting.

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Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at smaguire@adn.com.