Progressive independent expenditure money has so far sat on the sidelines of Alaska’s governor’s race while backers wait for either independent Gov. Bill Walker or Democrat Mark Begich to blink and take the race from a difficult three-way to a easier two-way with the Republican candidate.
That changed this week with the formation of the first major independent expenditure campaign formed specifically to back Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott (a Democrat).
Unite Alaska filed its paperwork with the Alaska Public Offices Commission on Wednesday to begin fundraising and spending to back the Walker/Mallott ticket. As an independent expenditure campaign the group is required by law to be independent and is barred from coordinating in any way with the Walker and Mallott campaign.
“Unite Alaska intends to raise money and purchase advertising touting the Walker administration’s remarkable leadership during one of the most difficult times in Alaska’s history,” exclaimed a press release announcing the formation of the group.
The co-chairs of the group are Jim Sampson, the founder of the Fairbanks Pipeline Training Center and the former executive president of the AFL-CIO, and Barbara Donatelli, the senior vice president of Cook Inlet Region, Inc.
The group has a long list of other backers, including Gail Schubert, Sheri Buretta, former state Sen. Joe Thomas and Tim Navarre.
But perhaps most notable of the backers is the national group Unite America, a group that recently made national headlines for backing independents across the country. It also appeared in Alaska headlines earlier this year under its old name, the Centrist Project, when it hosted a D.C. conference with appearances by Walker and independent Rep. Jason Grenn.
Unite America endorsed Walker and Grenn as well as Reps. Dan Ortiz and Paul Seaton (who ditched his Republican affiliation this year to run as a nonpartisan candidate in the Democratic Party’s primary).
The group told the Associated Press it has about $3 million in the bank for races nationwide (though federal filings show its election fund has raised about $575,000 with about half of that coming from Riot Games founder Marc Merill). It’s unclear just how much of that pledged cash will reach Alaska, and Unite Alaska is also soliciting its own contributions. Because it’s an independent expenditure group, it can take unlimited contributions from individuals, businesses and unions. Those contributions will have to be disclosed through the state’s campaign disclosure website on a regular basis.
So far, unions have stayed out of the governor’s race. They were a significant force in the 2014 elections after the unification of Walker’s independent ticket with Mallott’s Democratic ticket, bringing more than $1 million to the table in support.
Unions are certainly paying close attention to the race, and are actively pushing for a two-way race in the general election. AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami said he personally believes Walker has earned his re-election, but said endorsement decision will be made closer to the general election.