This is a rarity, normally when we score political attacks, one side is clearly the attacker and one side clearly the target. In this case, we have more of an exchange of fire as the Alaska Republican Party and Libertarian candidate for US Senate, Joe Miller traded similar “financial irregularity” charges against one another. Deciding who actually came out the winner might be more complicated to sort out.
Just to recap, we score campaign attacks based on the following proprietary scale. (patent pending)
Knockout: An attack that succeeded in completely defining the target, consumes their campaign, or destroys the opposing side’s ability to win the race.
Landed Punch: An attack that succeeds in achieving the attacker’s goals and that sticks to the target. Sometimes a landed punch can be a true body blow to a campaign while other time they are more of an annoying jab, but either way they have an effect.
Example: Mark Begich and allies dub Dan Sullivan “Ohio Dan” in U.S. Senate race
Swing and a Miss: An attack that fails to have a substantial impact on the target. These attacks often go largely or completely unnoticed by the media and general public. Other times they do get noticed but don’t stick to the target or damage them in any way.
Example: Eric Croft asserts Dan Sullivan would implement a 14% sales tax if elected Mayor.
Self-Inflicted Wound: A hit that does more damage to the attacker than the target.
Example: Prevo and Demboski try to paint Berkowitz as supportive of incestuous relationships.
We’ll try to give you the CliffsNotes version.
Alaska Republican Party’s (ARP) charges against Joe Miller: The ARP’s attack comes down to the party saying Joe Miller is using his for-profit website JoeMiller.us as both a campaign website and corporate advertising revenue stream for his U.S. Senate campaign. Essentially the ARP is saying any private companies that pay to advertise on his website are illegal corporate donors to Miller’s campaign.
Miller’s defense is that he owns the website so any revenue from it is his personal money and he can use as much of that money to fund his campaign as he likes.
We don’t think Miller has broken any rules, it’s more that he has found a loophole in federal campaign finance rules.
The massive irony here is that the Alaska Republican Party is making this charge. They continue to use party resources to pay their communications director to operate a party created website to attack party opponents such as Miller and solicit donations for the party and their candidates without adhering to any public disclosure or reporting rules. If Miller’s website is illegal then the Alaska Republican Party’s website is a flat out criminal enterprise.
On the other side, Joe Miller is claiming Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s campaign is illegally funneling money to the Alaska Republican Party to fund anti-Joe and pro-Lisa activities. According to Federal Elections Commission (FEC) filings, Murkowski’s campaign transferred $150,300 to the ARP in September alone.
This charge boils down to Joe saying Lisa and the ARP are conspiring against him. But they are a political party and the party’s nominated candidate, conspiring against their opponents is what our political system expects of them.
The other problem for Miller is that he wasn’t able to even speculate as to how any of the money was illegally spent. It may be “highly unusual” for a campaign to give that much money to their party right before an election, and the specificity of individual amounts transferred sure makes it look like there was quid-pro-quo at play, but until Miller and his team can complete the thought with what they think the money was used for, there is no way to even gauge if the allegation has merit.
We aren’t ones for trotting out the specter of “media bias” in reporting, particularly after Donald Trump bastardized it within an inch of reason. Here, however, we think Joe Miller has a legit claim. The ARP and Miller leveled largely similar kinds of campaign finance charges at one another on the same day, yet here are the headlines from several major media outlets:
Alaska Dispatch News: “Alaska GOP says Joe Miller broke campaign finance laws”
Alaska Public Media: “Alaska GOP accuses Joe Miller of campaign finance violations”
It is like news outlets earlier in the day just decided they finally had the good “Joe Miller F’d up” story they’ve been waiting for and didn’t let the facts or circumstances get in the way. These headlines should have been far more balanced.
Scoring The Attack
According to The Midnight Sun in-house developed scoring system, how did these two attacks for the three parties score?
We found some of the speculation we heard last night from various corners of the Alaska politisphere very interesting, there are those who think the ARP’s allegations were simply to bracket Miller’s changes, in which case the ARP clearly won and Miller lost.
There were others who thought the ARP made a colossal error in engaging Miller at all. They think all the ARP did was make the dust-up an even bigger story and may have enraged and awakened his hard-core support base right before the election. In that case, Miller was the winner and Murkowski was the loser.
We don’t think either side knew the other had their charge coming, they just both wanted the media hit on the first day of early voting to help their side.
If we view the fight as between Murkowski and Miller, then Miller will clearly win in the long run. This incident isn’t going to live or be defined by the ADN or KTVA, it will live and breath on Facebook for the next two weeks and give Trump-Miller voters the Murkowski-establishment scandal they have been looking for.
We think it’s pretty clear that isn’t a group interested in fair reporting of the facts, just a good pay-for-play bone to chew on. Now they have one.
From that perspective, this was a “Landed Punch” for Miller.
The ARP isn’t a loser here, however, even if for reasons they never intended. We think any big dust-up between Murkowski and Miller is oddly good for Alaska Republicans, if not the ARP.
Ok, that may sound confusing, so let us explain. These kinds of Murkowski-Miller fights definitely exacerbate a schism in the Republican Party structure and thus are bad for party leadership going forward. Such fights also, however, tend to energize both Murkowski and Miller voters. Both sets of voters are far more likely to vote for Republicans down-ballot than they are for Democrats. Thus, we see the real winner in this fight, and any that come after it, as Republican legislative candidates.
And because if they succeed the ARP will largely claim credit, we rate this fight a “Landed Punch” for the ARP.