SUPREME COURT RULING USED MOST EFFECTIVELY BY THE LEFT IN ALASKA
Citizens United, a conservative group, brought a First Amendment lawsuit against the Federal Elections Commission in 2010.
The success of that lawsuit made the group very famous, and very much hated by the Left.
When Citizens won and the FEC lost at the U.S. Supreme Court, Americans confirmed their right to somewhat unrestricted free election-related speech.
The liberal intelligentsia has not stopped gnashing its teeth ever since. The conventional meme you’ll hear from MSNBC talking heads is that corporations dominate elections with their independent expenditure largess, and therefore it’s end times for democracy.
That happens to be wrong.
In reality, since Citizens United won, Big Labor, public employee unions, and billionaires like George Soros have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to sway elections for candidates and causes that increase the salaries of public employees, grow government, and stymie free enterprise through intense regulation.
During Alaska’s most recent election cycle, this played out as well-funded liberal advocates outspent business-friendly groups by a stunning margin in the legislative races.
For every $1 the business-friendly groups spent, Big Labor spent $1.31.
If you add in Big Enviro and Big Abort (Planned Parenthood), the Left spent $1.60 to elect mainly Democrats for every $1.00 spent by pro-business groups to elect mainly Republicans.
The Left-vs-Right expenditures are asymmetrical, indeed, but the effectiveness of the groups’ efforts is the real story.
The Left simply spent their money better: They targeted earlier, committed their funds with precision, knew what they had to spend, and who they would spend it on.
The Right fragmented. It’s remarkable the business groups performed as well as they did for candidates, considering the fracturing.
Besides Americans for Prosperity-Alaska, a grassroots organizing group, just one free-enterprise independent expenditure group emerged to advance business-friendly candidates and agendas during both the primary and general elections: The Accountability Project (TAP), which formed in 2012.
TAP spent $271,000 in both the Primary and General elections this year, much of it in support of Sens. Cathy Giessel and John Coghill. Both had tough races against Democrats (one masquerading as an independent).
The Democrats were well-funded by Big Labor and Anchorage attorney Robin Brena, who serves as Governor Bill Walker’s surrogate, allowing the governor to “not takes sides.”
Joining the Alaska State Senate slugfest were other left-of-center monied interests. The funding was in the form of direct campaign cash as well as a barrage of Independent Expenditure not directly tied to the candidates.
Another business-friendly group, The Truth-Alaska (TTA), chaired by Dan Coffey also put $100,309 in at the 11th hour to come to the aid of Sen. Giessel.
TAP and TTA pushed hard against Giessel’s challenger, AFL-CIO Labor Boss Vince Beltrami, who was seen by some as the biggest threat to clean government since convicted racketeer Lew Dischner, Alaska’s first-ever Labor commissioner under Democrat Gov. Bill Egan.
The Accountability Project also helped unseat Rep. Jim Colver, who was considered an unreliable conservative by thinking Republicans. His re-election hopes were dashed by challenger George Rauscher in the District 9 primary, in spite of heavy spending by Left-leaning expenditure groups.
TAP spent thousands of dollars to defend Anchorage Rep. Liz Vazquez from a challenge by union-backed Jason Grenn, and TAP worked to unseat Democrat-Independent Rep. Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan.
Those two efforts fell short, as did the attempt to bump off Rep. Paul Seaton, another Democratic-aligned Republican from Homer. All three of those winners surprised no one when they joined the Democratic caucus that now controls the House by a thread.
Recently, TAP analyzed spending differences between liberal and conservative groups that played the “independent expenditure” game during the recent election cycle:
- Business-friendly independent expenditure groups, (TAP and TTA) spent $346,372.
- Union-enviro groups spent $455,201.
- Environmental groups (“The Alaska Center,” specifically) spent $72,791.
MOST ALASKA BUSINESSES ENJOYING A FREE RIDE?
A look through the contributors to The Accountability Project and The Truth-Alaska show only a handful of business leaders actually engage in spending during critical elections. They number about 25 in all.
Hundreds if not thousands of Alaska businesses benefit from the policies defended by these few business owners and the lawmakers they support. If more business leaders were to understand independent expenditures as crucial, they could easily move the needle and neutralize the Left’s overwhelming advantage.
And yet, compounding the problem was fragmentation within the business community itself.
Case in point: Some business leaders targeted Republican House member Liz Vazquez for defeat because she was seen as unresponsive to using Permanent Fund earnings to plug the State’s budget gap. Instead, they supported her labor-backed opponent, Jason Grenn.
At the same time, The Accountability Project worked for Vazquez’ re-election in order to defend the Republican-led House majority.
It was so close: She lost by only 180 votes.
If Vazquez had not run into headwinds with some business leaders, the House might not have flipped to Democratic control, which is held by a razor-thin margin.
On the other side of the fulcrum, Governor Bill Walker’s political doppelganger Robin Brena, unions, enviros, and Planned Parenthood, were entirely aligned on their choice of candidates. They didn’t work at cross-purposes — it was all for one and one for all.
Their reward is a Democrat-led majority in control of the Alaska House of Representatives, even though Republicans have the technical advantage.
THIS IS NOT YOUR DAD’S POLITICAL SYSTEM
“The ink wasn’t even dry on the Citizens United Supreme Court decision before the unions started getting revved up” to take advantage of it, said Scott Hawkins, who is the treasurer for The Accountability Project.
The asymmetrical political savvy between the business community and the unions is a problem, he said. For unions and environmental groups, this is their full-time work. Same with Planned Parenthood. But business leaders have companies to run.
“They don’t do politics full time and many of them still think it’s gentleman’s game,” Hawkins said.
The fragmenting of the business-friendly independent expenditure groups’ efforts nearly cost the elections of Reps. Lance Pruitt and Charisse Millett, both of Anchorage, according to other political observers.
“The fact is, no individual organizes the House or Senate. Only a team does that, and the team is either Republican or Democrat.” – Tuckerman Babcock
“The independent expenditure groups on the Left did not support any Republicans, except Rep. Colver, who was an incumbent. But the ones on the right — the business-oriented ones — do not always pay attention to the team approach,” said Tuckerman Babcock, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party. “They are picking and choosing, and it can be both naive and self-destructive.
“The fact is, no individual organizes the House or Senate. Only a team does that, and the team is either Republican or Democrat,” he said.
CLOSING THE DOOR AFTER THE MUSK OX GET OUT?
In recent years, business has been closing the financial gap and using its money more effectively. As a result, the 2016 election cycle nationwide was a Republican sweep. Republicans now dominate the nation’s legislatures at record levels, controlling 69 of 99 state legislative chambers and 33 governorships.
Twenty-five states now have both a Republican governor and Republican-led legislatures.
But not in Alaska. Three Alaskan psuedo-Republican lawmakers — Republicans Gabrielle LeDoux, Paul Seaton, and Louise Stutes — bolted to join the Democrats, and by doing so changed the power structure of the Alaska House of Representatives to be beholden to Big Government and Big Labor. The Musk Ox Coalition pulled off a coup against its own Republican Party.
TIME, TREASURE, AND TALONS
Labor and environmental groups have another advantage: Timeliness. They have pots of money they can easily and quickly transfer into independent expenditure groups. As a result, they get their talons sunk deeply into legislative races early in the election cycle.
The business community in Alaska, however, doesn’t get into the mood until they hear the campaigns are in full swing and start to fear the outcome. By then, the Left has already been on the airwaves for weeks and many voters have made up their minds — quite a few may have already voted early or absentee. That means the late-arriving dollars have barely half the impact they might have had if they’d been available earlier in the cycle.
A natural counterbalance to left-leaning groups, the business trade associations, have the resources to engage earlier. But, they have been largely missing in action on the independent expenditure front. Most such business associations in Alaska have been reluctant to support independent expenditures for candidates, although they have shown a willingness to engage in defeating hostile ballot initiatives. This is another example of the asymmetry between Big Labor and business advocates.
An important exception to this rule is The Alaska Chamber of Commerce. This year, the State Chamber stepped up with about $30,000 in funds for both The Accountability Project and The Truth-Alaska.
Chamber President Curtis Thayer is well versed in today’s political realities and has been effective in explaining the stakes to his executive board.
The stakes are high indeed. Over the next two years, the House majority and the governor are likely to exert tremendous pressure on the Senate’s solid Republican majority to go along with debilitating increases in oil taxes, and a grab-bag of other taxes and fees on households, business and industry, all in the service of supporting higher State spending than Alaska can possibly afford.
The loss of the Alaska House to Democrat control has weakened considerably the firewall protecting the business community from the governor’s many business-hostile policy proposals.
These stakes will only get higher. Until the business community fully engages and eliminates the asymmetry between it and the left-of-center groups, things may go sideways for Alaska’s private sector.