The Trail

Pro-Dunleavy group backed by Republican Governors Association spends hundreds of thousands on TV ads

An independent expenditure group backed by the national Republican Governors Association spent $400,000 this week on TV ads in support of Mike Dunleavy, the Republican nominee for governor, according to the group's spokeswoman.

The ads started Friday — three days after Dunleavy, a former state senator, won the Republican primary. They'll run over the next three weeks on KTUU, KTVA, KYUR and KTBY, said Mary Ann Pruitt, spokeswoman of the group, Families for Alaska's Future. (Here's the ad.)

In addition to those advertisements, it appears Families for Alaska's Future has spent more than $700,000 on nearly 430 additional ad spots on KTUU between Sept. 26 and the Nov. 6 Election Day, according to filings with the Federal Communications Commission.

Families for Alaska's Future is the second independent expenditure group supporting Dunleavy's candidacy for governor. The other, Dunleavy for Alaska, is largely funded by Dunleavy's brother, Francis, who lives in Texas, and Bob Penney, a developer and sportfishing advocate in Alaska.

Another independent expenditure group, Unite Alaska, has formed in support of the re-election of Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, running independent of a political party. By Friday, there didn't appear to be an independent expenditure group formed in support of the Democratic candidate for governor, former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich — at least not one that had been announced.

(Here's the deal with independent expenditure groups: They can raise unlimited funds from individuals and organizations, but they can't coordinate with the campaigns they're supporting or opposing. In contrast, candidates' campaigns can raise up to $500 from an individual and up $1,000 from an Alaska-based group. Before the primary election on Tuesday, Dunleavy for Alaska had raised twice as much as Dunleavy's campaign.)

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It's unclear just how much money Families for Alaska's Future has on hand. The group had not filed an expenditure report with the Alaska Public Offices Commission by Friday. By law, it didn't have to. It has to file a report no later than 10 days after spending money, according to Alaska law.

What we do know:

Families for Alaska's Future is chaired by Steve Strait, a Republican businessman in Alaska.

"We're about supporting Mike Dunleavy at this point," he said in an interview Friday. Alaska has been moving in the wrong direction, he said. "We'd like to see that change… Get the economy moving again."

The Republican Governors Association (RGA) is the group's largest donor, Pruitt said. She said Friday she didn't yet have the total amount of money the RGA would contribute to the group. The RGA is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that backs Republican gubernatorial candidates. An RGA spokesperson could not be reached Friday.

In April, the Associated Press reported that the RGA was reserving ad time worth $1.5 million for the final weeks of Alaska's governor's race. Pruitt said the plan was for that money to go through Families for Alaska's Future.

In 2014, the RGA put $1.3 million behind Gov. Sean Parnell in the final days of the governor's race.

After the RGA, Families for Alaska's Future's biggest donors are the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of Alaska and Arctic E&P Advisors, Pruitt said. Amy Nibert, president of the ABC of Alaska, said it had donated $5,000 to the group. Randy Ruedrich, former Alaska Republican Party chair and owner of Arctic E&P Advisors, said the consulting firm had "made a modest contribution," but declined to go into specifics.

"I believe in electing a responsible governor to move the state forward and improve our economy and way of life," he said.

Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), said in an email Friday that the organization had not yet spent money in Alaska's governors race, nor had it made spending decisions for the fall. He said the DGA will closely monitor the race moving forward. The DGA is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that supports the election of Democratic gubernatorial candidates

"Alaska is a significant pickup opportunity for the DGA with Mark Begich as our Democratic nominee," he said. "Alaskans are ready for a change, with a strong majority of Alaskans believing the state is on the wrong track."

Note: This story has been updated to include comments from the Democratic Governors Association.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.