Outsiders dominate Alaska's Senate race

More than 16,000 nonprofit, PAC ads have saturated airwaves

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As Alaskans vote today to decide the Republican Party’s challenger to incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, outside forces are dominating the contentious race — the outcome of which could determine control of the U.S. Senate.

More than 90 percent of the 16,000-plus ads aired so far this cycle by political action committees, super PACs and nonprofits have come from groups based outside Alaska or that receive the bulk of their funding from non-Alaskans, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of advertising data provided by Kantar Media/CMAG.

That’s more than the roughly 15,000 ads that candidates themselves have collectively aired in a state that's home to just 740,000 people and, in Anchorage, the nation's 145th largest media market.

Both Republicans and Democrats are benefiting from the money from “outside,” as many Alaskans call the Lower 48.

For instance, half a dozen Washington, D.C., powerhouses have together aired more than 6,500 ads attacking Begich or touting the Republican frontrunner, Dan Sullivan.

Three of these groups — Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners and the American Energy Alliance —  fall within conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch's political network. Super PAC American Crossroads and nonprofit outfit Crossroads GPS are tied to GOP strategist Karl Rove. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is headquartered across the street from the White House.

Meanwhile, a pro-Begich super PAC called Put Alaska First has aired more than 6,000 ads promoting Begich and attacking his would-be Republican rivals, according to Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks ads that both overtly call for the election or defeat of candidates as well as "issue ads" that simply mention candidates.

When Put Alaska First launched, its leader, longtime Alaska-based political consultant Jim Lottsfeldt, declared that “Alaskans, not outsiders, should pick our elected officials.”

But Federal Election Commission records show that about 95 percent of the $5.1 million Put Alaska First raised through July 31 came from Washington, D.C.-based Senate Majority PAC. This Democratic super PAC counts New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, media mogul Fred Eychaner of Chicago and environmentalist Tom Steyer of San Francisco among its top donors.

Put Alaska First’s spending spree has augmented Begich's robust financial advantage.

As of July 30, the date of the most recent campaign finance reports filed by the candidates in Alaska’s Senate race, Begich had raised about $8.4 million and had more than $2 million still in the bank.

Sullivan, the state’s former attorney general and commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, meanwhile, raised more than $4 million and had about $1 million cash on hand.

Sullivan’s main Republican rivals — former lieutenant governor Mead Treadwell and attorney Joe Miller — raised about $1.2 million and $760,000, respectively.

Notably, about 10 percent of Sullivan’s fundraising haul has come from people and political action committees associated with the securities and investment industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s more than any other industry.

Employees of one hedge fund alone — Elliott Management, which is led by GOP mega-donor Paul Singer — have given Sullivan's campaign about $119,000.

Sullivan has also been aided by a super PAC called Alaska’s Energy America’s Values, which has raised $460,000 — the bulk of which has come from three relatives who live in Ohio.

Begich’s largest funder has been the legal industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, whose employees and PACs have given about $670,000, or 8 percent of his total haul.

As one of the Senate’s most endangered incumbents, Begich has also collected about $400,000 from the leadership PACs of his Democratic colleagues.

Republicans must pick up six seats in November to regain control of the U.S. Senate.