Campaign intelligence: “Frankenfish” in Alaska, no drama in Wyoming

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Alaska Dan Sullivan, surrounded by his family. The words "Alaska's Energy America's Values" are on the screen along side Alaskan and American flags.
Having trouble keeping all the outside groups in Alaska straight? We’ve got you covered. This image comes from a recent ad by Alaska’s Energy/America’s Values supporting Dan Sullivan. The group is funded mostly by Sullivan’s family members. Image credit: Alaska’s Energy/America’s Values

As voters in two natural resource-rich rich western states head to the polls Tuesday, the biggest intrigue is in one of remote Alaska, where the battle for a U.S. Senate seat already has drawn more than 25 times more dollars than the state has voters.


Alaska will be hosting one of this year’s marquee matchups: Control of the Senate could be determined by the outcome of the race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and the winner of Tuesday’s three-way Republican primary.

Most pundits expect former state Attorney General Dan Sullivan to prevail, but the Alaskan electorate is notoriously fickle and Tea Partier Joe Miller — who’s endorsed by former Gov. Sarah Palin — or Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell could snatch an upset victory.

The GOP establishment money is behind Sullivan: His campaign had pulled in nearly $1 million by the start of August. His front-runner status, however, has made him the target of bruising attack ads from outside interests.

As of press time, outside groups — super PACs and political nonprofits — have reported $3.9 million in expenditures opposing Sullivan, substantially more than the $1.2 million that’s been spent targeting Begich.

Candidates and outside groups have combined to spend over $18 million so far in that race, a jaw-dropping sum for a state with a population of 700,000. Most of the interest group dollars pouring in to the state are targeted on Begich and Sullivan, the presumptive primary winners.

See, for example, this recent ad from Put Alaska First claiming Dan Sullivan was behind a government power grab to cut Alaskans out of land and water decisions.

What the ad doesn’t mention is that Put Alaska First is funded almost entirely by Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC headquartered in Washington, DC.

In fact, it’s rarely clear who’s behind these groups judging by their name alone, why they’re invested in Alaska’s U.S. Senate race. To judge by their names, each organization seemingly is touting some variation on “jobs,” “freedom” — and, in this race, “Alaska” and “salmon.”

So the chart below is a guide to the biggest spenders in Alaska, using campaign finance data from Real-Time FEC and linking to YouTube accounts where possible.

This chart doesn’t capture all of the outside spending groups weighing in on the Alaska Senate race — political nonprofits that ran so-called issue ads don’t have to report these expenditures to the Federal Election Commission as long as the buys aren’t made 30 days before the primary or 60 days before the general election.

In the other federal race on the northernmost state’s ballot, Alaska’s lone congressman, 41-year House veteran Don Young, R, is expected to cruise to his party’s nomination Tuesday in spite of a reproof from the Committee on Ethics over improper benefits and misuse of campaign funds.


In deep-red Wyoming, Sen. Mike Enzi, R, is poised to coast to the Republican nomination after an early challenge from Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, fizzled.

As for Wyoming’s at-large congressional district, no Republican candidate has filed with the FEC to run against incumbent Rep. Cynthia Lummis.

Lummis, who serves on the House Committee on Natural Resources and chairs the Committee on Science’s Energy Subcommittee, gets substantial campaign support from the political action committees of energy companies like Halliburton ($10,000), Alpha Natural Resources ($10,000) and Arch Coal Inc. ($5,000), but those names are just a small sampling of the corporate political committees who have supported Lummis with campaign contributions. In fact, 84 percent (or about $200,000) of the money in her campaign war chest came from a political action committees. A whopping 97 percent of her campaign money came from outside of the state of Wyoming.

As for outside spending in Wyoming, there seems to be little. The brief flurry of outside spending that accompanied the younger Cheney’s brief Senate campaign has since stopped. No group has reported making an independent expenditure in the state since December 2013.