A voting sign at Hanshew Middle School in Anchorage on the morning of Election Day last year. (Jeff Chen / Alaska Public Media)
Two weeks before the November elections, attacks were posted on Facebook targeting independent and democratic legislative candidates.
“Calvin Schrage is not independent,” said one of the advertisements, referring to the independent candidate for a seat in the House of Representatives who represents Anchorage Hillside. “He’s a typical liberal democrat.”
This complaint, which attacks Anchorage State House independent candidate Stephen Trimble, is from the Council on Good Government. Most of the Council on Good Government’s money came from the Republican State Leadership Committee, whose largest donor in Alaska prior to last year’s elections was the telecommunications company GCI. (Facebook)
The group that paid for the ads, the Council on Good Government, received nearly all of the $ 380,000 it raised from a single group: those based in Washington, DC Republican Governance Committee. But only after the votes were counted did the RSLC have to disclose the sources of the $ 8.5 million in its own submissions, collected in the month leading up to election day.
When the RSLC created the file this report to the IRSit only showed one large Alaskan donor: GCI. The Anchorage telecommunications giant gave the RSLC $ 100,000 in early October – the day before the group reported it had transferred $ 75,000 to the Council on Good Government.
The donation came as a shock to some political observers.
“You’re kidding,” said Amber Lee, who led the campaigns for two candidates targeted by the Good Government Council. “Impressive.”
GCI’s $ 100,000 contribution was significant to politics in Alaska, as most legislative candidates raise less than that much money over the course of their entire campaigns. But it was far from unique: groups on both sides of last year’s struggle for control of state lawmakers spent significant sums of money on corporations that didn’t disclose – or not at all – their donors before the elections.
But from this year this practice will be banned: A citizens’ initiative approved in November Groups attempting to influence the election of candidates must disclose the “true source” of all donations in excess of $ 2,000.
“Getting this information from IRS tax documents in February for money spent to influence Alaska’s voters in last November’s elections is of no use to voters,” said Shea Siegert, who led the successful initiative campaign. “That is the problem that Election Action 2 was supposed to fix.”
The RSLC supports GOP legislative candidates across the country, and the GCI issued a statement saying that its contribution to the organization was not intended for a specific campaign.
GCI is making a donation to the RSLC “in support of their work both across the state of Alaska and across the country, and advocating for candidates who support companies like GCI and promote strong economic policies,” spokeswoman Heather Handyside wrote in an email.
“We have chosen to support the RSLC directly as an organization that has effectively participated in elections in the past,” said Handyside.
The Council on Good Government – the Alaska-based group that attacked independent and Democratic candidates – has raised more than $ 300,000 from the RSLC over the past year. The money came in several installments, including the $ 75,000 the day after the GCIs donation.
RSLC also gave $ 150,000 to defend the Alaskan elections last year. This is the group that has struggled unsuccessfully to defeat the electoral initiative which, among other things, requires greater disclosure from donors. Defend Alaska Elections received $ 45,000 direct from GCI and $ 50,000 from two top GCI executives.
The Council on Good Government supported GOP legislative candidates in five races at the Anchorage State House and one race in the Fairbanks Senate.
The group supported three victorious Republican candidates: Fairbanks Senator Robb Myers, who defeated the independent Marna Sanford; Anchorage Rep. David Nelson, who defeated the Democrat Lyn Franks; and Anchorage Rep. Sara Rasmussen, who defeated the independent Stephen Trimble.
This ad, attacking Democratic Anchorage State House candidate Liz Snyder, comes from the Council on Good Government. (Facebook)
The group also supported three lost Republicans: former Anchorage Rep. Lance Pruitt, who lost to Democrat Liz Snyder; former Anchorage Rep. Mel Gillis, who lost to Schrage, the Independent; and Kathy Henslee, who lost to incumbent Anchorage Rep. Chris Tuck.
Among the ads by the Council on Good Government were radio spots praising Pruitt as “one of the most respected members of the legislature” and promoting Snyder for “government-run health care” and an income tax – even though Snyder refused to approve an income tax during a campaign debate .
Other ads on Facebook labeled independent candidates Schrage and Trimble as “typical Liberal Democrats” and “fake independent liberals”, respectively.
Lee, who led the Trimble and Snyder campaigns, said the lack of information about the ad sponsors makes it difficult for candidates to respond at this point.
“All of the information you have changes to some degree, what kind of research you do and what kind of tactics you use,” she said.
The RSLC wasn’t the only major campaign donor in Alaska, however, whose supporters were not revealed in the election.
Progressive organizations that do not reveal their donors also donated five- and six-figure amounts to groups that support democratic and independent candidates. And because these organizations are organized differently, they do not report their donors to the state or the IRS.
Defend AlaskaThe company, which raised $ 500,000 last year to support progressive candidates, raised $ 150,000 with the Washington, DC-based nonprofit Sixteen thirty funds. The fund does not disclose the identity of its contributors Politico once described it as “fueled by massive anonymous donations, including a gift totaling $ 51.7 million”.
This complaint, which attacks former East Anchorage GOP representative Lance Pruitt, was paid for by a group called Defend Alaska. Defend Alaska raised large donations from several groups that do not disclose their donors. (Facebook)
Defend Alaska also raised $ 50,000 at the Alaska Progressive Donor Table, a nonprofit based in Anchorage. Kay Brown, a former Alaska Democratic Party executive director listed as one of the officers on the donor table, declined to immediately disclose information about their donors.
Defend Alaska chairwoman Barbara Blake referred questions about the group’s donors to the donors themselves, though she noted that Defend Alaska began as a grassroots effort.
In future state elections, the newly approved electoral measure will force groups to disclose more information about their donors.
Siegert, the initiative’s campaign manager, said the new rules should give Alaskans “real-time” information about groups trying to influence candidates’ campaigns within the state. Disclosure of donations and contributions is required within 24 hours.
“These people have a reason to contribute to campaigns, and the voters, who know who is donating, give them the opportunity to decide for themselves why these contributors contribute to a particular candidate,” said Siegert. “Voters can only research the information that is publicly available – they can speculate about the rest, but if we don’t have laws and regulations about the rest that make that information public, voters will be disadvantaged.”