6 Things That Latest Fundraising Numbers Tell Us

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The latest round of campaign finance disclosures are out, and they matter. A lot. Candidates, parties, and flacks are all full o’ bluster and spin about their campaigns and their performance, but pesky statutorily-required campaign finance reports give citizens an unspun window into exactly where things stand. No one can hide from the numbers. They are cold, precise, and ultimately unflinching. To paraphrase the great football coach Bill Parcells, you are what your fundraising numbers say you are.

First off, Nat Herz did a fine story on the APOC numbers that you can read here. It’s a great story. But it’s not the entire picture. What’s the problem? The dateline on Nat’s story is 2 days before the filing deadline of February 16, and, as anyone who has worked on political campaigns knows, the interesting things tend to get filed as close to the deadline as possible.

So, here are 6 Things You Haven’t Read About The Fundraising Period.

Dems ahead of Rs in fundraising 

Alaska is viewed as a conservative state, rich with resource industry money, with God’n’guns values being a key to unlock untold riches from the wallets of the wealthy. As such, the Alaska Republican Party should easily be able to reel in way more cash than their Democratic counterparts–but that’s not how 2015 shook out. Here are the numbers each party raised for their state operational and house-and-senate-campaign accounts:

Party Head To Head Raised (2-1-15 thru 2-1-16)
Alaska Republican Party $154,906.78
Alaska Democratic Party $175,000.31

The Dems outpaced the GOP by about $21,000. Is that an indication of greater zeal among the Dems’ ranks, or just an anomaly? I’ll leave that up to you to speculate, but anytime Dems out raise Republicans in Alaska, it is significant.

Von Imhof’s numbers:  Better than you’ve heard

Natasha Von Imhof isn’t walking to replace Senate District L-is-for Lesil McGuire–she’s running. She beat any other candidates in fundraising by a length or two. Here are the top ten fundraisers among legislative candidates:

Legislative candidates raising the most money:

  1. Natasha Von Imhof             $80,852.55
  2.  Cathy Giessel                       $68,526.31
  3. Gabrielle LeDoux                 $61,985.88
  4. Mike Gordon                         $52,667.00
  5. Matt Claman                         $43,291.40
  6. Bill Stoltze                             $35,995.00
  7. Jim Colver                             $35,778.63
  8. Ross Bieling                          $32,791.00
  9. John Coghill                          $32,712.68
  10. Les Gara                                 $32,340.00

That cool $80k looks soooo good, doesn’t it? But wait. It’s even better than it looks. Unlike the other top fundraising candidates (Giessel, LeDoux, Gordon) who all received at least $10k from party donations or union PACs, Von Imhof didn’t. She only reported one PAC contribution totalling $1,000. That means all that money came in from individual donors of $500 or less.

It’s true Von Imhof has already spent $22K, which is a lot for this early in the campaign. Most of that is for campaign management and fundraising expenses. Those are good expenses indicating an active campaign.   

All-in-all, Von Imhof’s report is as sexy as a financial disclosure can get.

Lobbyists have already won

Lobbyists weren’t shy about spreading their cash around politics this past year–here’s a breakdown of 2015’s top lobbyist-donors:

Lobbyist donations:

  1. Kevin Jardell                    $9,750
  2. John Bitney                      $7,700
  3. Eldon Mulder                    $6,250
  4. Frank Bickford                  $6,200
  5. Ashley Reed                      $5,210
  6. Wendy Chamberlin         $4,600
  7. Kris Knauss                      $3,500
  8. Ray Gillespie                    $3,000
  9. Mike Tibbles                     $2,500

Lobbyists are legally prohibited from donating to candidates and legislators, unless they physically live in a legislator’s district, so how did these guys dump that much cash into the system? By donating to political parties. Both the ARP and ADP have accounts set aside to raise money specifically to go to state house and senate candidates. While those accounts exist within the political parties accounts structure they are largely administered by the sitting leadership of each party in the legislature.

For instance, “theoretically,” lobbyist Kevin Jardell could hand House and Senate head honchos Mike Chenault and Kevin Meyer checks for $9,000 to help them and their colleagues get re-elected, and it’s perfectly legal even thought it would be illegal for him to donate to either directly.

As a matter of fact, by my count of the ARP’s $154k, at least $55k–more than a third of their money–came from those paid to lobby lawmakers. And it’s not like the ADP’s all that much better–they took at least $21k from lobbyists and augmented it with another $12k from union PACs.

Who has already won the 2016 elections regardless of how they come out?  Lobbyists.

The Republican Party tips their hand

No political party or group is ever going to admit they are worried about the challenge one of their incumbents are facing. The money trail admits it for them.

As you can see in the chart below donations from the Alaska Republican Party (ARP), Alaska Federation of Republican Women (AFRW), Anchorage Republican Women’s Club (ARWC), and Capital CIty Republican Women (CCRW) show four candidates have been singled out  for significant party support. The fate of two incumbents, Lance Pruitt and Cathy Giessel, clearly have party faithful, and particularly women clubs clutching their pearls, while the two challengers, Mike Gordon and Marilyn Stewart, are candidates that insiders view as potential winners.

Republican Party Candidate Donations ARP AFRW ARWC CCRW   Total
Mike Gordon (running vs.Harriet Drummond) $9,000 $1,000  $0 $0 $10,000
Rep. Lance Pruitt $7,000 $1,500 $0 $1,000 $9,500
Marilynn Stewart (running vs. Matt Claman) $7,700  $1,000 $0 $1,000 $9,700
Sen. Cathy Giessel $1,894 $3,500 $1,000 $5,000 $11,394

Democrat Party Candidate Donations Total
Hillary Morgan (running vs. Cathy Giessel – Dropped out) $5,000

Unions help Democrats running for assembly. A lot.

If one had to make a broad generalization about the Anchorage Assembly race fundraising numbers, so far it would be that the friendlier you are to labor, the more you’ll raise. The fact is, conservatives got their tails absolutely handed to them in fundraising this reporting period.

Here’s a breakdown for local candidates:

Anchorage Assembly candidates raising the most money        Union Donations

  1. Eric Croft                                                $66,473.96                                $17,000
  2. Forrest Dunbar                                     $53,249.17                               $12,000
  3. Ira Perman                                             $46,555.00                                          $0
  4. John Weddleton                                   $42,003.38                                 $2,000
  5. Adam Trombley                                    $33,225.00                                         $0

Eric Croft’s clocked in a big $66k, and Forrest Dunbar, who didn’t jump into the race until early December, still posted a very nice $53k. The one conservative to make the top five, Adam Trombley, was still lagging behind the rest of the group, reporting $33K.

Union PACs got in the game in a big way donating over $30K. Donating union Pacs included:

  • ASEA / AFSCME Local 52 PAC
  • IAFF Local 1264 PAC
  • APDEA PAC
  • United Association Local 367 PAC
  • Public Employees Local 71 Political League Candidate Fund
  • ALPEC Voluntary Contributions Laborers’ Local 942 (Fairbanks)
  • ASEA/AFSCME Local 52
  • APEA/AFT Employees Political Information Committee
  • Teamster ALIVE – Gaming, IAFF PAC Local 1264

Conservative candidates for Assembly need to get moving

As good as the news is for left-leaning candidates for the Assembly, the news is that bad for conservatives.

There are two Republicans running for Assembly in South Anchorage: Mark Schischmier and Treg Taylor. Because of the turmoil in that race, both are newly-declared and so are starting from scratch fundraising-wise. Their opponent, John Weddleton, has a $40k start on both.

At least those two candidates have a decent excuse for their fundraising problem. Of the conservatives who have been around for months, only Adam Trombley appears to have taken fundraising even somewhat seriously.

Terre Gales is running on the Eastside and has been touted for months by the Alaska Republican Party as a serious candidate, but his financial report shows he’s only raised $600. Not only is that a sad number, it is one likely to invite a campaign finance violation allegation. His report lists expenditures only to Pay Pal, but he has a website and 4’x8’ signs up all over town. Some inquisitive citizen is sure to ask exactly how that feat was achieved with only $600… those signs aren’t cheap!

If you can believe it, the news actually gets worse. Chugiak-Eagle River Assemblywoman Amy Demboski must have thought no one would possibly challenge her after her dominating 20-point loss in the mayoral race last spring. She donated $100 to her campaign… … … and that’s it for the entire report. Dynamics in this race have changed drastically since then, and now Demboski is in a race with Nicholas Begich. One has to assume his political pedigree at the very least entitles him to enough fundraising connections necessary to wage a robust campaign.

It’s too early to say whether Demboski is in trouble, but that day on the calendar isn’t far off if she doesn’t get going in a major way, and soon.

About the Author

Casey Reynolds
Reynolds served as communications director for the Alaska Republican Party from 2008-2011. He left the Party in 2011 to host his own popular morning radio political talk show on AM750 / FM103.7 KFQD. Reynolds now runs The Midnight Sun (midnightsunak.com), crowned by the Anchorage Press as “Alaska’s best political blog.”