Keeping the powder dry: Independent expenditure cash non-existent for Walker or Begich

Mark Begich and Gov. Bill Walker.

When former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich teased his run for office in an email last year, he asked his supporters “keep your powder dry.” While that hasn’t stopped fundraising for either candidate, it has kept the big-ticket independent backers on the sidelines.

As of today, neither Begich nor incumbent independent Gov. Bill Walker have seen a single dollar of independent expenditure money spent on their behalf. Meanwhile, every major Republican contender for governor–including now-withdrawn candidate Scott Hawkins–has had some amount of money spent supporting their candidacy.

Former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy has been by far the biggest beneficiary with the confusingly named Dunleavy for Alaska spending $643,021.19 supporting his election, according to the latest reports filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. With $275,000 of that money coming directly from his wealthy brother, Francis Dunleavy, the group has even debuted multiple different types of billboard signs.

Both Mead Treadwell and Hawkins have also seen spending on their behalf, even though it’s been a paltry $7,264 for Treadwell and $11,783.26 for Hawkins.

Meanwhile, uncertainty over the three-way race between Begich, Walker and the Republican nominee has kept the big-ticket (mostly union) money on the sidelines, even as we’ve seen plenty of moderates and progressives galvanize into either the Begich or Walker camps. But even among those groups, there’s been a fair amount of hedging and talk of a retread of the 2014 unity ticket play that would see the race return to a head-to-head against the Republican candidate. Money’s likely to stay on the sidelines until something’s worked out or it’s so late in the election cycle that allegiances need to be picked.

Either way, it’s really too early for this to be too much of a cause for concern for either candidate. When the taps of campaign money turn on, it can flow very fast.

That was the case in 2014 when big-ticket independent expenditures in support of Walker didn’t materialize after the formation of the unity ticket with Democrat Byron Mallott set the stage for a head-to-head race. Once the union-backed merger was complete, the money quickly flowed and by election day more than $1 million had been spent in support of the Walker and Mallott ticket.

Here’s a comparison of the 2014 independent expenditures and the independent expenditures of 2018 so far. (If the graphic doesn’t load, here’s a direct link to the image.)

Independent expenditure groups are allowed to raise and spend an unlimited amount of money supporting or opposing any candidate or issue. They’re barred from coordinating directly with the candidate or issue.

While special-interest money in elections is unsavory, it’s a fact of life and accounted for a majority of the campaign money spent in the 2014 governor’s race. The total independent expenditure spend either opposing or supporting Walker totaled $2.4 million while $149,000 was spent on supporting or opposing Parnell, a grand total of $2.57 million.

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