Alaskan gubernatorial candidates have taken advantage of the lifted campaign fundraising caps with six-figure donations from wealthy supporters in the months since strict fundraising limits were lifted, recent campaign finance reports show.
Incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, independent nominee Bill Walker and Democratic nominee Les Gara all reported large donations that far exceeded the previous donation limit of $500 per individual donor per year, which was lifted earlier this year after a court deemed the limit unconstitutional. An attempt by the state legislature to pass new contribution limits fell through in the final days of the legislature, allowing candidates in the state to absorb unlimited contributions.
Dunleavy and running mate Nancy Dahlstrom are running short of cash a month before the Aug. 16 primary, according to campaign reports filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission through Monday night, which cover fundraising and spending between Feb. 2 and July 15. Dunleavy has $768,000 in the bank, while former Gov. Walker has $751,000 and former state assemblyman Gara has over $655,000.
Dunleavy, Walker and Gara are expected to be three of the top vote winners in the August primary. The four best candidates will compete in a ranking list in November.
Much of Dunleavy’s funds come from his brother Francis Dunleavy and other wealthy donors. Francis Dunleavy gave $200,000 to his brother’s campaign. Dunleavy also received $100,000 checks from Alaskan developer and sportfishing advocate Bob Penney and Minnesota real estate developer Armand Brachman. Collectively, these contributions represent over 43% of the $925,000 raised by the incumbent during the reporting period.
Penney and Francis Dunleavy were the primary supporters of an independent spending group that raised more than $700,000 to support Dunleavy’s first gubernatorial bid in 2018. Brachman is a personal friend of the governor who has accompanied him on hunting and fishing trips, campaign spokesman Andrew Jensen said Tuesday, adding that the campaign “could not identify any business interests of Armand in Alaska.” Jensen also works in an official capacity as a speechwriter for the governor.
Critics said during Dunleavy’s earlier campaign that the outsized financial backing could lead to undue donor influence. A no-bid contract awarded by a state agency to Clark Penney, Bob Penney’s grandson, in 2020 sparked an outcry from Democratic lawmakers. Clark Penney eventually terminated the exclusive supply agreement.
Dunleavy has previously said he tends to support unlimited campaign contributions as long as they are publicly announced.
“I appreciate the support of everyone who recognizes that Alaska is at the forefront of issues that matter not only to us but to all Americans, especially energy independence, national security and leadership in countering extremist politics from Washington, DC .” Dunleavy said in a statement on Tuesday.
Walker and fellow campaigner Heidi Drygas received three donations totaling $100,000 from Kansas politician Greg Orman, trading firm partner Jason Carroll and New York author Kathy Murdoch. These contributions represent 40% of the $751,000 raised through the Walker Drygas campaign since February.
Orman, who ran unsuccessfully as an independent for the US Senate and represented Kansas, also provided $28,500 in election services, according to the report. Carroll is a Partner at Hudson River Trading, headquartered in New York City.
Walker has said he supports capping campaign contributions. A spokesman for his campaign did not immediately provide details on the reasons behind the big contributions from Orman, Carroll and Murdoch.
According to a written statement from the Walker campaign, 90% of his campaign’s donors are Alaskans. “The other 10 percent are people living out of state who support independent candidates whose allegiance is to their voters rather than to a political party,” the campaign said in an emailed statement.
Gara and running mate Jessica Cook raised over $575,000 in the most recent reporting period and didn’t receive any six-figure checks. Gara’s biggest contributions came from Alaskan attorneys. You are Robin Brena who gave $16,500; Myra Munson, who donated $11,500; and Jacqueline Carr, who gave $13,000.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Gara called the difference in overall fundraising “negligible” and said his campaign has received more individual donations from Alaskans.
“Big money in politics is a terrible thing,” said Gara, who has repeatedly called for campaign contribution limits to be reinstated after a federal court ruled the state’s previous limits unconstitutional and gave lawmakers room to introduce newly designed limits.
[Murkowski maintains heavy cash advantage in Alaska U.S. Senate race]
Brena, who helped represent the winners in the campaign finance lawsuit that removed the contribution cap, also donated $25,000 to Walker’s campaign. Brena and Walker are partners in the same law firm.
Brena has said lifting contribution caps “will not add a penny to the amount of money going into our political system.” Instead, he said, the money — including his own contributions — would go directly to candidates rather than independent spending groups, which can accept unlimited contributions but are barred from coordinating with candidates.
Recent independent spending filings show they raised far less than individual candidate campaigns.
Several other candidates are running for the governor’s seat, including Republican Mayor of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Charlie Pierce and Republican Rep. Christopher Kurka of Wasilla.
Pierce and running mate Edie Grunwald said they raised $64,000 and had nearly $22,000 in cash after spending around $42,000 in the most recent reporting period.
Kurka reported that he had just $2,653 in the bank and $8,400 in debt, having raised $12,000 since February. Running mate Paul Hueper raised $28,536 and had $1,658 in the bank.
No other gubernatorial candidate raised more than $3,000 during the period.
Walker has far outperformed its competitors since February, paying out more than $650,000, of which $140,000 went to a Washington DC advertising agency.
Dunleavy’s campaign spent nearly $400,000, of which more than $170,000 went to Anchorage-based political consultant Art Hackney for radio and television advertising.
Gara’s campaign spent around $370,000, of which nearly $130,000 went to advertising through a DC agency.
Several state legislatures signaled their support for gubernatorial candidates with campaign donations.
Walker’s supporters include Democrats Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, Rep. Andy Josephson and Senator Scott Kawasaki. Gara’s supporters include Democrat Rep. Harriet Drummond, Rep. Sara Hannan and Senator Bill Wielechowski. Republican Rep. George Rauscher gave up Dunleavy. Republican Senate candidate Tuckerman Babcock, who had previously served as Dunleavy’s chief of staff, also contributed to his campaign.