JUNEAU — New fundraising reports show a huge haul of cash by the candidate anointed by retiring GOP Sen. Lesil McGuire as her successor, while the slim accounts of a pair of incumbent senators raise questions about whether they intend to run again.
Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, a fixture in the Alaska Legislature for decades, said he still plans to seek re-election despite raising no money for his campaign last year.
And the former Senate president, Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, reported a paltry $2,300 in campaign account income. He didn't respond to a request for comment. But anticipating a succession of falling dominoes, at least one Mat-Su candidate has taken a step toward mounting a campaign for the House seat that could open if Huggins retires and one of the incumbent House members in Huggins' district, Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, runs to replace him.
In McGuire's district, former Anchorage School Board member Natasha von Imhof raised a whopping $80,853 in the three months since she declared her campaign to succeed McGuire, who's retiring and wants von Imhof to replace her.
The sum includes about 90 donations at the $500 maximum, and $2,000 of von Imhof's own money. It also dwarfs the $30,000 total raised by the two Democrats and one Republican who are also seeking McGuire's seat.
Asked how she planned to spend the money, von Imhof said in a phone interview Monday that her campaign is "formulating that plan now."
"I'm going to get out my name — mailers, radio, things like that," she said. She also read a reporter a prepared statement, saying: "My campaign enters the election year with the resources necessary to win."
Von Imhof's GOP primary opponent, Jeff Landfield, raised $17,253. In a phone interview Monday, as he said he was driving to pick up a $500 check, Landfield called von Imhof's report "totally predictable" and noted that she'd already spent about $22,000 on her campaign.
"It just shows how much of an insider she is," he said. "We need to elect people who aren't controlled by these special interests and these big donors."
Roselynn Cacy, one of the two Democrats seeking the same seat, said her relatively modest $6,750 in income shows: "I know how to do things with very little money."
"We can do things without spending the amounts of money that Natasha and other people are used to," Cacy said in a phone interview.
Ellis said in an interview Monday that he plans to seek re-election even though he didn't raise any money last year. Ellis, who's been treated for prostate cancer, said some checks arrived while he was out of town at the end of last year, and added: "I have strong support in my district and I'll raise the money after the session."
The current legislative session is scheduled to end in late April. Ellis currently has no declared opponents in his district, which comprises downtown Anchorage and Mountain View.
Huggins, the Wasilla Republican senator, reported just four contributions to his campaign, including $1,000 from a political action committee of the state contractors' organization, $500 from shipping executive Jim Jansen, and $500 from Lynn Reinwand, whose Juneau address is the same as lobbyist Jerry Reinwand. (Lobbyists are barred from giving to state lawmakers outside their own legislative districts.)
Huggins didn't respond to a request for comment Monday about his intentions for the next election. But Brandon Wall, a Wasilla city council member, said he filed a letter of intent with state regulators allowing him to raise money for a bid for Gattis' House seat in the event that Huggins retires and she seeks to replace him.
"There were a lot of rumors that Charlie was going to retire, and that Lynn was going to run for Charlie's seat," Wall said in a phone interview Monday. "I'm really good friends with Lynn Gattis and I would never run against her."
Wall, who raised no money for his own prospective campaign last year, said Huggins has not done anything to quash the speculation. But Wall downplayed the significance of Huggins' fundraising numbers, saying: "Charlie doesn't need to fundraise."
"I was hoping there would be a clearer picture — it's an awkward situation," Wall said.
The official deadline for the "year-start" campaign finance reports was Monday, but state regulators said reports filed Tuesday would be considered on-time because Monday was a holiday. The report covers the start of a campaign through Feb. 1.
Other candidates who reported significant fundraising numbers through Monday include Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, with $62,000 in income; $32,700 for Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole; and $32,340 for Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage.
Only one candidate has filed to run for the East Anchorage House seat formerly held by Democrat Max Gruenberg, who died Sunday. That candidate is Kevin Kastner, who filed in July to run as a Republican but reported raising no money for his campaign through Feb. 1.
The state Democratic party on Monday announced the selection process for Gruenberg's replacement. The job is open only to registered Democrats who live in Gruenberg's District 16 in East Anchorage, and the deadline for applicants to file with the party is Feb. 22.
Following interviews next week, the party will give Gov. Bill Walker three names to choose from, and Walker will have until mid-March to pick one. His choice will be subject to confirmation by House Democrats.
This week's fundraising disclosures come as a group of Republicans is challenging some of Alaska's campaign finance restrictions — including the $500 limit on individuals' annual donations to candidates — in federal court.
On Friday, District Court Judge Timothy Burgess issued an order allowing the Republicans to expand their complaint, over the state's objections, to include an additional justification under the 14th Amendment.
The "privileges and immunities clause" of that amendment restricts states' ability to discriminate against residents of other states, and the Republicans say it provides an argument against Alaska's limits on campaign contributions from out-of-state residents.
Expert witnesses in the case on behalf of the state include a retired University of Alaska Fairbanks political scientist, Gerald McBeath, as well as former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles. Experts for the Republicans include Clark Bensen, a political data analyst, and Michael Pauley, a political consultant who's worked on Alaska campaigns.