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Group supporting Senate bipartisan majority weighs in with campaign spending

Posted: October 9, 2012 - 9:31pm  |  Updated: October 9, 2012 - 9:39pm

JUNEAU — A labor-backed group running ads in support of members of the Senate’s bipartisan majority raised about $284,000 in the latest reporting period.

The single biggest contributor to the Putting Alaskans First Committee during the period was the Alaska AFL-CIO, which gave $134,000.

The reporting period covers Aug. 19 through Oct. 5. As of Friday, the group had about $7,500 on hand, and debts of $26,350.

Putting Alaskans First has been running ads centered on the oil tax debate that’s been simmering in Juneau and is expected to be a big issue during the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January. The ads praise members of the bipartisan coalition that refused to follow the House’s lead and pass the governor’s oil tax-cut plan last year. A tax-cut plan introduced by Gov. Sean Parnell during a special session this year was criticized by lawmakers in both parties, and withdrawn.

Putting Alaskans First spent nearly $292,000 during the reporting period, the vast majority of that on ads.

Chairman Vince Beltrami said the group intends to stay involved right up to election day, and intends to run ads weighing in on individual races. He declined to identify the specific races but said “protecting the Senate bipartisan coalition is foremost in our minds.” Beltrami, who is also president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, did not have an exact figure as far as the fundraising goal for Putting Alaskans First for the final weeks of the campaign, but said he wouldn’t be surprised if it reached into the six figures.

Next month’s election will help decide the makeup of the Senate. Some Republican leaders, including Gov. Sean Parnell, have said they would like to break up the current majority, which consists of 10 Democrats and six Republicans. Parnell has said the coalition is bipartisan in name only.

But critics of Parnell’s tax-cut plans have hailed the coalition senators for not accepting what they consider to be a corporate giveaway. The state Democratic party has gone so far as to cast them as “heroes,” but the party on a special website has singled out only Democratic members of the coalition. Putting Alaskans First has featured Democratic and Republican majority members in its ads.

The separate Putting Alaskans First PAC contributed $4,000 to six candidates during the reporting period, all Democrats except for Sen. Linda Menard, a coalition member who lost her GOP primary in August.

Employee political action committees for BP Alaska and ConocoPhillips Alaska have also contributed to candidates. BP and ConocoPhillips are two of the biggest producers on Alaska’s North Slope; Exxon Mobil Corp. is the third. All have supported Parnell’s push to cut taxes.

The ConocoPhillips Alaska Employee PAC gave exclusively to Republican candidates during period, including to Sens. Bert Stedman and Lesil McGuire, both coalition members. Stedman has been a leader of the Senate’s approach on oil taxes. His Senate Finance Committee earlier this year worked to craft a comprehensive overhaul of the system. The proposal didn’t make it past the caucus.

A narrower bill, aimed at production of oil from new fields, ultimately passed the Senate at the end of the regular session but it died in the House, where leaders said they didn’t have time to vet it.

The BP Alaska Employees Political Action Committee gave mainly to Republicans but also contributed to Bennie Nageak, a Democrat from Barrow and the only current candidate for House District 40.

The Alaska Support Industry-Alliance-backed group We Are Alaska reported no fundraising during the latest period. Alliance General Manager Rebecca Logan said Tuesday that We Are Alaska is planning more ad buys for radio but plans to keep its focus on simply educating Alaskans about who the support industry is. We Are Alaska had more than $16,500 on hand at the close of the reporting period.

As for candidate reports in some closely watched Senate races:

■ Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, reporting raising more than $61,600 in his bid for re-election in an expensive Anchorage legislative race. French’s opponent, Republican Bob Bell, reported raising $54,300 during the latest reporting period. So far, French has raised about $182,300 on his campaign. He spent much of that, about $104,600, during the latest period, generally on ad buys and campaign costs. He had more than $47,200 on hand as of Friday. Bell reported more than $43,700 on hand, but also debts of nearly $25,400.

■ Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks, raised about $51,400, including $10,000 from the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, while Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, raised more than $44,300, including funding from party affiliate groups. Redistricting forced the two into the same district. As of Friday, Thomas had about $35,200 on hand while Coghill had more than $19,400.

■ State Rep. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River, took in more cash than Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, raising more than $32,700 in her bid to unseat Davis. Davis, fresh off a contested primary race against former state Rep. Harry Crawford, raised nearly $25,300. As of Friday, Fairclough reported having more than $49,800 on hand but also debts of about $14,800. Davis had about $32,000 available.

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