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Alaska Senate races under way as campaign war chests fill up

Ben Anderson,Jill Burke
Aaron Jansen illustration

On Monday night, Alaskans got a glimpse of how much money is flowing into this year's elections.

It's a big year for the Alaska Legislature, with 59 of 60 seats up for grabs, thanks to a massive redistricting in the state. In particular, political insiders are watching the state Senate races closely.

Alaska's Senate Bipartisan Working Group has come under fire by proponents of so-called "oil tax reform," which Gov. Sean Parnell and other supporters tried to get passed in this year's legislative session. The state depends heavily on oil taxes, and those supporting the reform wish to see a tax break of a couple billion dollars on the companies that hold rights to produce Alaska's vast oil reserves.

Some members of the Senate Bipartisan Working Group, a coalition of 10 Democrats and six Republicans, have been against drastic reforms to the oil tax and are now facing primary challengers.

Much of the fundraising thus far has come from individual donors, who are permitted to give up to $500 to a candidate in a given year. Groups -- like employee Political Action Committees or public employees unions -- are permitted to give up to $1,000.

So where are the hottest Senate races? Who’s brought in the most money? Who has spent the most, and what are they spending on? Here are eight races to keep an eye on.

District B: Fairbanks and Fort Wainwright

Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Paskvan:
Income: $20,189.27
Expenditures: $4,152.55
Remaining cash on hand: $16,036.72

Paskvan’s biggest donors are five union and public employee Political Action Committees, who each donated $1,000. His biggest expenditure so far is on rent, to the tune of $1,150.

Republican challenger Pete Kelly
Income: $26,435
Expenditures: $22,523.65
Remaining cash on hand: $3,911.35

Kelly has earned most of his campaign funds via individual donors, with only a single donation of $1,000 given by the ConocoPhillips Employee PAC. Also donating is Republican Party chair Randy Ruedrich, who gave $400.

District C: Chena Ridge and Richardson Highway

Republican challenger Click Bishop
Income: $69,061.17
Expenditures: $51,198.20
Remaining cash on hand: $17,862.97

Bishop, a former state Labor Commissioner, was able to rack up $14,000 from various union and employee groups, in addition to a multitude of smaller donations. This three-way primary without an incumbent candidate has become one of the most heated races in the state in terms of money. Bishop has spent more than $30,000 on advertising and media alone.

Republican challenger Ralph Seekins
Income: $91,264.47
Expenditures: $63,965.36
Remaining cash on hand: $27,299.11*
*Seekins also has more than $12,700 in debt, which would reduce his cash on hand to about $14,500.

Seekins, who has already previously served as a state Senator, provided about two-thirds of the more than $91,000 his campaign reported between February and July. That includes a $30,000 deposit on July 27. Campaign spending includes about $14,500 on signs and stakes alone, along with $3,000 for website setup and thousands in print advertisements in various papers in the district.

Republican challenger David Eastman
Income: $10,200.49
Expenditures: $10,710.74
Remaining cash on hand: -$510.25
*Additional debts owed put Eastman's net campaign purse at -$866.50

Eastman is lagging behind monetarily in this big money race, with only a short list of donors and a $5,000 non-monetary contribution from himself in the form of stamps. His other biggest expenditure came in the form of $1,282 for "political communication" materials from an online political paraphernalia retailer.

Democratic challenger Anne Sudkamp
Income: $146.51
Expenditures: $146.51
Remaining cash on hand: $0.00

Sudkamp has the ability to relax a bit as the only Democrat running for the vacant seat, but if the amount of money being raised for the primary is any indication, she'll have to amp up fundraising at some point. All of the money reported for this period has been raised by Sudkamp, and $130 of that money was spent on Division of Elections fees.

District D: Greater Palmer and Rural Mat-Su

Republican incumbent Sen. Linda Menard
Beginning Cash on Hand: $22,827.61
Income: $24,617.89
Expenditures: $21,157.95
Remaining cash on hand: $26,287.55

Menard, a member of the Bipartisan Working Group, is facing stiff competition from challenger Mike Dunleavy, if his own fundraising is any indication. Menard’s campaign has earned a total of $5,000 from five different union and public employee groups, while she’s spent $10,000 on polling, radio and other advertising from Ivan Moore Research.

Republican challenger Mike Dunleavy
Beginning cash on hand: $14,120.20
Income: $37,584.75
Expenditures: $44,364.14
Remaining cash on hand: $7,340.81

Dunleavy is spending big in his bid to unseat Menard, and with no Democrat registered in the district for the general election, he’s not holding anything back in the primary. Perhaps most impressive about the nearly $40,000 that Dunleavy raised in this reporting period is that none of the donations were over $500. As far as spending, Dunleavy’s campaign has dropped $12,000 on radio advertising and about the same amount on “campaign outreach” from consulting firm Hellenthal and Associates.

District G: Anchorage’s Elmendorf and College Gate neighborhoods

Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Wielechowski
Beginning cash on hand: $31,063.25
Income: $23,279.45
Expenditures: $8,419.83
Remaining cash on hand: $45,922.87

Like several other incumbents, Wielechowski has seen $1,000 donations from five union and public employee groups. He looks to be saving most funds for the general election, since he’s not squaring off against any Democratic challengers in the primary. His campaign has spent about $1,750 on door hangers, and his campaign manager has collected $2,000.

Republican challenger Bob Roses
Beginning cash on hand: $17,207.32
Income: $36,450.82
Expenditures: $23,513.71
Remaining cash on hand: $30,144.43

Roses has a laundry list of donors, though only two donations of $1,000: one from the BP Alaska Employee PAC and the other from ConocoPhillips Alaska Employee PAC. He’s spending big on consulting and campaign strategy from Hellenthal and Associates -- the campaign has dropped more than $17,000 of its $23,000 in expenditures there.

District J: Anchorage’s Sand Lake neighborhood and West Anchorage

Democratic incumbent Sen. Hollis French
Beginning cash on hand: $52,271.49
Income: $46,985.00
Expenditures: $20,603.75
Remaining cash on hand: $78,652.74

French, unlike fellow Democrat Bill Wielechowski, is spending big in the lead-up to the primary, but he still has deep pockets. He’s earned $4,000 in donations from union and public employee groups, but he has many, many donors. His spending is fairly piecemeal, except for numerous printing expenditures totaling more than $5,000.

Republican challenger Liz Vazquez
Beginning cash on hand: $1,659.35
Income: $51,585
Expenditures: $26,355.20
Remaining cash on hand: $26,889.15

On paper, Vazquez looks like she’s racking up the campaign funds, but almost $44,000 of the $51,585 that she raised for the most recent reporting period came from checks written by herself. That includes two payments of $5,000 and one payment of $25,000, all in July. She’s spent about $15,000 on various services from polling and strategy firm Dittman Research.

Republican challenger Bob Bell
Income: $62,912.45
Expenditures: $25,539.39
Remaining cash on hand: $37,373.06

As does the incumbent, Bell has a huge number of donors. Only three donations have generated more than $500: $1,000 each from the BP Employee PAC, the ConocoPhillips PAC, and himself. He’s spent almost $3,000 for appetizers from the Petroleum Club on different fundraiser events and almost $18,000 on services from Hellenthal and Associates.

Senate District K - Oceanview, Taku

Republican incumbent Sen. Lesil McGuire
Income: $24,171.86
Expenditures: $35,133.88
Remaining cash on hand: $11,743.92

McGuire has healthy donations from executives across many industries and business sectors in Alaska, including owners or executives of transportation companies, bars, hotels and the oil industry. The president of the United Fisherman of Alaska donated to her campaign, as did an executive with the Alaska Railroad.  She brought in thousands of dollars through donations from labor unions, including the Alaska State Employees Association, Public Safety Employees Association PAC, Anchorage Police Department Employees Association PAC, and CHARR PAC. McGuire has also spent more than $16,000 on advertising and media services with Optima Public Relations. Tom Anderson, a former state legislator who saw jail time as part of a 2006 corruption probe and McGuire's ex-husband, is managing partner of Optima Public Relations.

Republican challenger Jeffrey Landfield
Income: $5,105.00
Expenditures: $6,056.52
Cash on hand: $1,417.72

Landfield's campaign is funded by individual donors, including incoming Republican Party Chair Russ Millett, former Alaska legislator Con Bunde, and employees of the Alaska Native regional corporation ASRC.

Democratic challenger Roselynn Cacy
Income: $385
Expenditures: $130
Cash on hand: $255

Senate District M -- Basher, Eagle River Valley

Incumbent Democratic Sen. Bettye Davis
Income: $35,426.92
Expenses: $24,440.58
Cash on Hand: $33,397.26

Most of Sen. Davis' donations are from individual contributors, including staff from U.S. Sen. Mark Begich's office, Anchorage defense attorney Rex Butler, and Pastor William Greene. Five union PACs are also backing her: Alaska State Employees Association (ASEA), Alaska Public Employees Association (APEA), Alaska Professional Firefighters, IBEW, and the Alaska chapter of the AFL-CIO.  

Democrat Harry Crawford
Income: 5,242.31
Expenditures: $8,350.75
Cash on Hand: $2,391.56

Crawford reports he has more debts than current cash, leaving him in the hole $108.44.

Republican Anna Fairclough
Income:  $31,580.21
Expenditures:  $9,338.40
Cash on hand:  $74,860.55

All but one donation for Rep. Fairclough are from individual donors. Employees in the construction industry, Native corporations and resource development -- including ExxonMobil Corp., Alaska Aerospace, BP, ConocoPhilips, Donlin Gold -- are among the contributors, in addition to a staffer from U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski's office. She has one PAC donation for $500, from Alaska Safe PAC of the Safeway / Carrs grocery chains.

Senate District O, Kenai / Soldotna

Incumbent Republican Tom Wagoner
Income: $11,400
Expenditures: $19,055.26
Cash on Hand: $9,830.66

Sen. Wagoner raised the majority of his money this period through individual donations, including from restaurant owners, realtors and fishermen. Two political action committees donated to his campaign: Alaska Sea Pilots and Alaska Crab Coalition.

Republican challenger Peter Micciche
Income: $28,136.69
Expenditures: $14,283.25
Cash on Hand: $13,853.44

Nearly a third of the money raised by Micciche, who is serving his second term as Soldotna's mayor, came through $10,000 in personal loans he made to his campaign committee. Other sources of income include individual donations from commercial property managers or owners, restaurant employees, fish processors and other community members.The ConocoPhillips Employee PAC gave him $500, while a $1,000 donation from Snug Harbor Seafoods logged as income was later returned.

Correction: This article originally identified Joe Paskvan as Thomas "Joe" Paskvan.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com, and Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com.