by James Brooks, Alaska Beacon
November 7, 2022
Fairbanks Democratic Sen. Scott Kawasaki does not live in his mother’s basement.
She doesn’t even have one.
And yet, in the final days of his closely fought re-election race against Republican Jim Matherly, Kawasaki is defending himself and answering questions from constituents who have read satirical ads sent through the mail by a group called Alaska Policy Partners Inc., which lists Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor among its founding directors.
Alaskans’ mailboxes are being flooded with mailers, and campaigns typically send their sharpest attack ads immediately before Election Day, but the ones by Alaska Policy Partners stand out and have caused candidates to defend themselves.
The one targeting Kawasaki features a digitally altered image of him, showing him sitting on a stuffed chair, accompanied by a bowl of potato chips and a TV remote. Alongside the image is a caption that includes the phrase “choosing to live in his mother’s basement.”
“This is like a full-out, I think, malicious lie,” Kawasaki said. “And it’s at the last minute, so I have no way to respond to it.”
Kawasaki expects a close race against Matherly, and said, “if I have even one question from a person who, I believe, is fairly knowledgeable about politics, who asks me, ‘Do you really live in your mom’s basement?’ … I think it does have an impact. It’s not a positive impact, that’s for sure.”
In addition to the ones targeting Kawasaki, the group sent mailers describing incumbent Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Grier Hopkins as a “puppet.”
In another race, mailers labeled former Senate President Cathy Giessel as a “pro-life candidate.” Giessel has a record of opposing abortion rights, but in this campaign, her website describes her commitment to the right to privacy “regarding healthcare decisions.”
Giessel responded to the mailer by producing a radio ad that features her shoveling snow.
“There’s other shoveling needed as well,” she says in the ad. “That’s throwing away the negative campaign mailings that show up during the last week before an election. They make wild, false claims.”
Campaign finance records show Alaska Policy Partners Inc., funded by a variety of donors, has spent more than $110,000 on advertising in a handful of close-fought state House and Senate races.
The group’s leadership is unclear. Jesse Sumner, a Republican candidate for state House in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, is listed as its president of the board but says he is no longer with the group.
Trevor Jepsen, listed as a contact for Alaska Policy Partners Inc., said he left the organization nine months ago and at that time, Jodi Taylor, the wife of Attorney General Taylor, was in charge. A document filed Oct. 20 with the state’s licensing division does not list Jodi Taylor as a director of the organization. It does list Treg Taylor as a director. A record filed with the Alaska Public Offices commission on Nov. 1 lists Jodi Taylor as a director but not Treg Taylor.
Taylor and his wife are each listed as “director” in the group’s founding documents. Neither responded to requests for comment about their roles on Monday.
The group paid Massey Political Consulting, a Utah firm, for its advertising. Campaign finance disclosures incorrectly list Massey’s address as that of a Fairbanks home belonging to Seth Church.
Church did not respond to a call seeing comment before this article’s initial publication but said afterward that the campaign spending was by a political action committee also named Alaska Policy Partners but a different organization than the one Treg Taylor belongs to.
That statement could not be immediately reconciled with documents filed with the state by both groups.
While the Alaska Public Offices Commission, the state’s campaign regulator, does list both Alaska Policy Partners Inc. and a separate group called Alaska Policy Partners PAC, it is Alaska Policy Partners Inc., not the PAC, that’s listed as accepting donations and spending money for the mailers.
Alaska Policy Partners Inc. was incorporated as a 501(c)6 in 2021. Nonprofits registered under that section of the tax code may engage in political campaigns as long as they aren’t the organization’s primary activity.
Church did not answer requests for documents showing the leadership of the two groups.
This story has been updated to include Church’s response
Correction: The initial version of this article failed to state that Trevor Jepsen said he left Alaska Policy Partners nine months ago. He remains listed as the group’s contact. The article has been updated to include that information and additional information about public disclosures filed by the group.
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