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Following the Money in Alaska Senate Race


September 2, 2014

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Anti-worker dark money groups and donors are spending big to give Alaska Senate candidate Dan Sullivan an edge over labor-friendly incumbent Mark Begich.
Photo from Dan Sullivan’s Facebook page.

At a time when outside spending influences the political process more than ever, voters hoping to get a sense of how a candidate might govern can glean a lot by remembering three words: follow the money.


In Alaska, Senate candidate Dan Sullivan hasn’t publicly made the kinds of stridently anti-worker comments like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Maine Gov. Paul LePage have. But groups contributing money toward his victory this election cycle include Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the Chamber of Commerce – organizations which support so-called right-to-work laws and the rollback of union gains at the bargaining table.

Sullivan’s biggest single direct donor so far is Elliott Management Corp., founded by hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer. The Wall Street powerbroker is known for hosting million-dollar fundraising dinners and was a key player in helping secure Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012.

That’s why Anchorage Local 1547 activists are mobilizing to help reelect Sen. Mark Begich, who is running a tight campaign to hold his seat against Sullivan in a state known for independently minded voters without strong loyalty to either major political party.

“With Begich, people feel like they have a fair deal,” said Local 1547 communications director Melinda Taylor. “When Begich was mayor of Anchorage he focused on construction projects and building up the city. As a senator, he’s carried that same philosophy forward for the rest of the state. There’s an open door policy with Mark, and he believes that labor and management can work together to build a strong economy. He knows that things don’t have to be adversarial.”

Sullivan, a Republican, is a former state attorney general and former head of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. Ninety-one percent of his individual contributions have come from out-of-state, including from political action committees supporting other anti-worker candidates like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“If Sullivan wins, we expect him to just toe the party line, especially in ways that could potentially hurt our members,” Taylor said.

Begich, by comparison, has a strong pro-labor voting record since taking office in 2009. He voted against a bill that would have banned Transportation Security Administration employees from collective bargaining. Begich supported legislation that would grant collective bargaining rights to public safety officers, and co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act in 2009, which – had it passed Congress – would have removed onerous restrictions on workers organizing for better wages and benefits.

Begich has consistently earned high voting scores from the AFL-CIO and received many 100-percent ratings from building trades and public employee unions over the last five years.

Alaska has the second-highest union density in the nation, which Taylor said could help keep labor-friendly lawmakers in office.

“If members vote in their own economic interests, we should do well,” she said, adding that the local union always supports candidates based on who’s best for good-paying jobs. “We’ve also supported many Republicans – you just have to find out who is on your side or not on your side, regardless of party.”

The local is also mobilizing to get several of its own members into office.

Journeyman electrician George McGuan, a former Peace Corps volunteer, is running to represent the Juneau valley in the statehouse. “I will work on areas that I can, such as incentivizing the construction of affordable housing, increasing the minimum wage, keeping energy costs stable and making health care more affordable,” McGuan writes on his website. “I feel that a person who works hard should have a nice place to live and be free from worrying if their next paycheck will cover their costs.”

Other IBEW candidates include current state Rep. Chris Tuck, a Local 1547 organizer who is running for reelection, and retiree Rocky Knudsen who is on the ballot as a state legislator.

Alaska voters will be deciding whether to raise the state’s minimum wage by $1 from the current federally-mandated level of $7.75. “A lot of new voters are in favor of that,” Taylor said, adding that such support could likely influence voters to choose candidates that Local 1547 endorses based on their track record with working families’ issues.

Local 1547 activists are working closely with the state AFL-CIO to prepare literature drops, begin phone banking and more, Taylor said.

Alaska residents: To register to vote, click here.


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