Forms to run for state office are displayed at the Alaska Division of Elections’ offices in Juneau in June. Candidates and organizations in statewide contests were required to file campaign finance reports on Monday, detailing their spending, expenses and cash on hand one month before the Nov 8 election. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file photo)

Big bucks back constitutional convention opponents

D.C. group spends on ballot measure, Dunleavy has big cash advantage in governor’s race.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has more money than his three challenges combined and opponents of a state constitutional convention got nearly $2 million of outside “dark money” to battle proponents who are a few thousand dollars in debt one month before the general election, according to campaign finance reports due Monday.

The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a national progressive nonprofit based in Washington, D.C, contributed $1.994 million to the Anchorage group No on 1: Defend Our Constitution between Aug. 7 and Oct. 7, according to the state group’s report filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Of that, $284,000 was non-monetary assistance.

It is the first reporting period where major donations were made to either side of the ballot measure asking voters if they want a constitutional convention. The donations by the Sixteen Thirty Fund, labeled a so-called “dark money” group because it does not disclose the source of its funds, also represent the dominant portion of the estimated $2.76 million the No on 1 group — which opposes the constitutional convention question officially known as Ballot Measure 1 — reported raised the past two months, with at least another $600,000 coming from the National Education Association and related groups.

Labelling the funds “dark money” was challenged by Alaska AFL-CIO President Joelle Hall, co-chair of No on 1, who said her group is disclosing the source of its funds.

“There are lots of people who are interested in defending the rights of people from all over this country,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “Some of them live in Alaska, some don’t live in Alaska.”

But while the ConventionYES group campaigning in favor of a constitutional convention can argue outside big-money interests are trying to sway the vote, they have less than no money to do so, according to the group’s latest APOC report.

The Fairbanks-based group reported about $21,352 in donations and and $24,501 in expenses, leaving them with a deficit of about $3,149. Those totals also represent the group’s totals for the entire campaign.

Attempts Tuesday to reach ConventionYES officials were unsuccessful.

Voters are asked every decade if they want to approve a constitutional convention, but none have taken place since statehood and polls to date suggest it is likely to fail again in the Nov. 8 general election. Hall said despite the apparent lead in polls and dominant lead in funds there is uncertainty about the ballot measure’s outcome due to a high level of frustration and controversy among Alaska voters on numerous issues that could be brought up at a convention.

“We are not blind to the fact that people when frustrated can take actions that are not always predictable,” she said.

Gubernatorial candidates spend evenly, have wildly different incomes

Another race where a cash-on-hand leader is clear is for governor, where Dunleavy has about $906,310 in his campaign account, compared to about $448,235 for independent Bill Walker, $359,741 for Democrat Les Gara and $6,133 for Republican Charlie Pierce, according to the APOC reports. That’s after the incumbent also raised the most funds during the past two months with about $601,768, compared to $458,531 for Walker, $402,892 for Gara and $7,930 for Pierce.

The top three candidates spent nearly even amounts during the two-month period, with Walker reporting about $578,047 in expenditures, Dunleavy $547,302 and Gara $525,715. Pearce, who has been nearly invisible during the general election campaign (although he has appeared at a couple of recent candidate forums), spent about $24,421.

Gara, while trailing among the major candidates in recent donations and cash available, put a positive spin on the results in a Twitter message on his official account Tuesday.

“Thank you Alaska for giving us the most grassroots support of any campaign,” he wrote, claiming to have received the highest percentage of Alaska donations among the major candidates. “Over 5,200 donations from Alaska voters.”

Gara’s biggest listed contributor was the Alaska Democratic Party which made more than $110,000 in non-monetary donations for “coordinated campaign services,” with the candidate also declaring he spent the same amount on the party.

Walker, who served as governor between 2014 and 2018, has raised the most during the entire campaign of the major candidates at slightly more than $2 million, but also spent the most with more than $1.5 million in expenditures. His most recent APOC report shows numerous five-figure contributions from out-of-state individuals who are either retired or in businesses such as real estate, with the largest individual donation being $100,000 from Marc Merrill, CEO of Riot Games in Santa Monica, California.

In a prepared statement issued by his campaign, Walker acknowledged both his in-state and outside donors.

“We are honored to have the support of Alaskans from all walks of life who have invested in our effort to rebuild Alaska and create opportunities that will enable kids to stay and build successful lives here rather than continuing to be forced to move and get away from one of the worst economies in the country,” the statement notes. “We also appreciate the support of independent-minded leaders across America who see (running mate Heidi Drygas) and I rising above our party labels as a model that could help bridge the deep political divisions in our country.”

Dunleavy’s largest single contributions were also $100,000 from his brother, Francis, who lives in Texas, and Robert Penney, an Anchorage businessman. Both have made significant donations previously to his campaign this year and to a group supporting his 2018 campaign.

Juneau’s three Alaska State Legislature races continue to essentially be nonentities, with unopposed state Sen. Jesse Kiehl reporting $2,156 in income and $9,503 in expenditures ($8,333 of it on radio ads), and unopposed state Rep. Andi Story reporting $1,025 in income and $3,727 in expenditures (about half to the Alaska Democratic Party for coordinated campaign expenses).

The lone competitive local race incumbent Rep. Sara Hannan reported $3,900 in income, $378 in expenditures and about $14,874 cash on hand, while her challenger Darrell Harmon reported $500 in income (from an Auke Bay business owner identified merely as “Fuller”) and no expenditures.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

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