Praising Gov. Sean Parnell for playing an instrumental role in reviving tourism in Alaska, a group of businesses involved in the visitor industry has established a new fundraising organization to advocate on his behalf in the closing weeks of his race against challenger Bill Walker.
"For Tourism Jobs -- Vote Parnell" filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission on Wednesday, said John Binkley, a co-chair of the group and chair of his family's company, Riverboat Discovery tours in Fairbanks.
"It will be modest, educational, and absolutely positive," Binkley said of the group's outreach. "I think people are sick and tired of all the negative ads. We just want to talk about the positive things he's done for the 46,000 Alaskans employed in the tourism industry."
The industry was reeling before Parnell addressed the concerns of tourism businesses and expanded funding for tourism marketing in fiscal year 2011, Binkley said, boosting spending levels about 80 percent to around $18 million, a level that has been sustained since then. Parnell also led the effort to reduce head taxes on cruise ship visitors from $50 to $39.
The global recession and high oil prices hurt tourism in Alaska, according to Binkley, so putting the state back on the radar by increasing marketing assistance was critical. Binkley said he's worked with several past governors, and Parnell has done the most for tourism. Employment numbers in the state visitor industry are now at record levels, while tourism pumped $4 billion into the economy in 2013 and brought the state $180 million directly in state and local taxes, he said.
Walker, on his campaign website, says that many tourism business have suffered 50 percent declines in revenue in recent years. "Overall, the influx of tourists to Alaska from the cruise ship industry is impressive. However, we must recognize the importance of the independent tour companies to our economy," the site says.
The new group's co-chairs are Carol Fraser of Anchorage with the Millennium Alaskan Hotel, Tom Tougas of Seward with Major Marine Tours, and Tim McDonnell of Juneau with TEMSCO Helicopters.
The group is an independent expenditure group, the state's equivalent of a federal super PAC in that donors can give unlimited amounts but the groups must work independently of candidates.
Other independent expenditure groups have been created that can support Walker or his running mate Byron Mallott, including the new and well-funded group created by the AFL-CIO, the state's umbrella labor organization.
In its latest report filed on Tuesday, "Alaskans for Walker Mallott" reported total contributions of $350,000, with about two-thirds of that money coming from the AFL-CIO. The group reported spending $225,000 in its latest report, all of it with Anchorage-based Hays Research Group, a polling and research firm.
The tourism PAC hopes to raise $35,000 before the Nov. 4 general election and may take out some radio spots, Binkley said. It will also use social media to reach tourism business owners who "can communicate with employees and tell them how important it is they get out and participate in this year's election and hopefully support Parnell," Binkley said.