Sheffield is the busiest host on the political fund-raising scene

Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Former Gov. Bill Sheffield loves a party, but he wants his guests to bring their checkbooks.

At his roomy West Anchorage home along the Coastal Trail, Sheffield is one of the busiest party hosts and political fund-raisers in Alaska. Right now he's in the middle of a six-week run of six fund-raisers before the new year, hosting events for candidates across the political spectrum.

As the end of the year approaches with its annual limits on political contributions, it's the season for giving money to candidates. If your pockets are deep and you're interested in politics, chances are you've been invited to Sheffield's house recently.

''I am a people person and a political person. It's what I like to do,'' said Sheffield, 73, who lives with his housekeeper in the 4,300-square-foot house on Susitna View Court.

The open rooms, big windows with Mount McKinley views and a genial ex-governor presiding over a milieu of cocktails and hors d'oeuvres has proved a potent mix to get dollars out of personal checking accounts and into candidates' campaign treasuries.

Sheffield sold a statewide hotel chain in 1987. Hospitality comes easily, he said. Since he finished building the house four years ago, more than $1 million has been raised here, he reckons.

''If everybody who had been in my house voted for me, I'd never lose an election,'' he said.

Sheffield quit elected politics after he lost a re-election bid for governor in 1986. He was named president of the Alaska Railroad in 1997. In May, he became director of the Port of Anchorage.

Sheffield used to have the reputation as a Democratic party loyalist. But in recent years, he has opened his doors to candidates of both parties. In 1998, Sheffield held a fund-raiser for Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young and a reception for Newt Gingrich, then the Republican speaker of the U.S. House.

Last week, Sheffield hosted fund-raisers for Anchorage's Republican mayor, George Wuerch, and Democrat Jane Angvik, who is running for a downtown House seat. This week, he's hosting another for Republican state Sen. Dave Donley of Anchorage. Before Thanksgiving, there was an event for Ben Stevens, son of Sen. Ted Stevens and new Republican state senator. Sheffield will host a gathering of young people for the elder Stevens two days after Christmas.

Perhaps the biggest and most successful event so far was the Nov. 26 party for U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, who was launching a Republican bid for governor. The event took in $40,000.

Sheffield said that the Republican fund-raisers are not a party betrayal but reflect a gratitude to Alaska's congressional delegation, which has helped secure millions of dollars of funding for the Alaska Railroad and now the Port of Anchorage.

''Used to be I'd vote the straight Democratic ticket,'' Sheffield said. ''As I get older, I've started paying more attention to the people.''

Alaska campaign laws allow a person to give $500 per candidate per year. On the eve of a year with elections for governor, state House and Senate seats, candidates are scrambling to bring in money before Dec. 31.

Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, the leading Democratic candidate for governor, collected more than $225,000 and is on track to hit a quarter-million dollars by the new year, said campaign spokeswoman Deb Bonito. Ulmer has held about a dozen fund-raisers in Juneau, Fairbanks, Anchorage and Kenai.

Early on in a high-profile race like the governor's campaign, rich, powerful and interested people may spread their donations across campaigns. The level of double-giving in the Ulmer-Murkowski contest is unclear, as disclosure reports are just coming in.

Sheffield's own loyalties are closely guarded. He has given $500 to both Ulmer and Murkowski this year. Bonito, Ulmer's campaign spokesman, said she hopes to have a fund-raiser at Sheffield's next month.

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