Alaska always has some charismatic personality who rolls into the state, captures the imagination of many and ascends to power before crashing spectacularly.
Back in the day it was Bill Allen: Smooth talking, affable, thoroughly believable and with a slight character fault or three that led to his fall from grace: Greed, sex, and power-brokering being the main components.
Allen started a small welding company called VECO, which grew to become one of the most known players in the oil industry worldwide. VECO was a household name in Alaska. He owned the Anchorage Times. He owned some Alaskans, too.
Then it happened. Bill Allen became a statewide disgrace, pleading guilty after a corruption probe into charges of extortion, bribery, and conspiracy to impede the Internal Revenue Service.
Bill Allen became shorthand for all that was wrong with the political system in Alaska. And, for his coup de grâce, he screwed the late Sen. Ted Stevens to save his own skin. That cost Ted Stevens and Alaska, as Mark Begich swooped in to pick the carcass.
Today’s Bill Allen might very well be Vince Beltrami: Smooth talking, affable, thoroughly believable, just like Allen. And determined to own the Legislature.
Anyone in his way is simply grist for his meat grinder. Those who are his allies are his useful idiots.
Beltrami blew into Alaska from California as a young man seeking his fortune, and charmed his way into being elected to lead the biggest union consortium in the state: AFL-CIO. That was heady stuff, because, well, Alaska is the third-most union-organized state in the nation.
Beltrami loves the swagger of his title and craves the attention he gets. From his personal website, he announces that, “according to at least one right-wing pundit, I alone am the FIVE most powerful people in Alaska, so please…try to show some respect!” He was joking…sort of.
In the back rooms of labor halls and on bar room napkins, Beltrami in 2014 hatched the plan that led to the formation of the so-called Unity Ticket. There was no way he was going to let Sean Parnell have a second term.
After the August 2014 primary showed Democrats had zero chance of winning the governorship, the Democrats reorganized and rebranded as “independents.” They dropped Byron Mallott as their candidate. Hollis French limped away from his bid for lieutenant governor.
Bill Walker adopted Mallott as his running mate, left the Republican Party and ran as an “independent” candidate.
The fix was in. The Democrats convinced themselves that this “Unity Ticket” was the best they could do, and shortly thereafter Beltrami made good on his promise, funding the rest of the fall campaign with money from union dues. He spent $300,000 to get Walker in office.
But that was not enough. His spending to own the Legislature has tripled since he started spending big in 2010. He had four years under his belt as president of AFL-CIO, he was losing membership, and he had to do something to stop the bleeding.
In 2014, he plugged Daniel Ortiz in as a test-case in Ketchikan to see if “independents” could succeed in deceiving the electorate. Ortiz won the House seat in a town that had been considered safely red.
This year, he’s plugged Democrat Pat Higgins into the race against Rep. Charisse Millett. He put Democrat Harry Crawford up against Rep. Lance Pruitt. He plugged newly minted “independent” Jason Grenn to run against Rep. Liz Vazquez. He is playing Democrat Luke Hopkins against Sen. John Coghill.
And he saved one prize for himself: He wants Sen. Cathy Giessel’s head on a platter, so he’s challenged her for her Senate Seat N.
With his own style of humble hubris, Beltrami is bragging around town that he has $500,000 to play with in these races.
WHO IS VINCE BELTRAMI?
Alaska Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock has characterized Beltrami as a “longtime union boss.”
Ballotpedia, which evaluates such claims, found that an interesting allegation and decided to investigate the claim.
The result? Yes, indeed, it ruled “longtime union boss” a fair assessment, and added that Beltrami has a mediocre history of leadership — with some successes, but also some failures. His union membership has actually declined under his watch at a rate that is twice the national decline. Here’s the fact-checking from Ballotpedia:
“In a June 1 GOP press release, Tuckerman Babcock, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, called Alaska State Senate candidate Vince Beltrami a “longtime union boss.”
“A standard dictionary definition of boss is: “a person who exercises control or authority; specifically: one who directs or supervises workers.”
“By that definition, Vince Beltrami is indeed a “longtime union boss.” The Alaska AFL-CIO, which Beltrami has managed for the past decade, is a network of 53 labor organizations in Alaska—a state with the third-highest rate of union membership nationwide. Both Beltrami and his organization have a long record of political activism and influence. But it is also a record marked by failure, not just success.
“Of course, the term “longtime union boss,” as applied by the Alaska GOP, carries certain political connotations that suggest such a person would favor the interests of his union allies instead of the general public good. Ultimately, Alaska voters will decide at the ballot box which use of the term best fits Beltrami.”
WHAT DID BELTRAMI PROMISE?
Vince Beltrami was elected to his post as president of the AFL-CIO in 2006.
You read that right: He was elected. He serves at the pleasure of the union voters.
That means he had to make the rounds to the membership, make a few impromptu speeches, and make promises.
Since he ran for union office, voters in Northeast Anchorage, Anchorage Hillside, Indian Bird, Girdwood and Portage might want to know just what he promised the AFL-CIO he would do for them.
What was Beltrami’s platform? What would be his targets and milestones for measuring his success? What are his deliverables?
Voters don’t know because Beltrami hasn’t released the campaign promises he has already made — promises that told his voters he would be the perfect person to hold the office to which he is now elected.
Further, Beltrami says if elected to the Senate, he won’t step down from his $185,000-per-year position of president of the Alaska AFL-CIO.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
Beltrami is now controlling more money in the current campaign cycle than Bill Allen ever dreamed of spending.
Allen, oldtimers will recall, would round up his buddies and head down to fundraisers, where they’d all drop checks for $250. Bill Allen would never have known what to do with $500,000 in an election cycle. Everything was done in small checks. Allen just peeled off some bills everywhere he went.
But Beltrami controls a lot of money. No one knows quite how much.
According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and Alaska Public Offices Commission filings, Beltrami has directed $928,634 to political candidates, ballot initiatives and political action committees between 2010 and 2015. And that amount is growing rapidly.
Beltrami spent three times the money in 2014 to control the outcome of races than he did just four years prior.
This year, it’s harder than ever to follow the money, because separate expenditure groups are popping up to support him in his own race, such as Together for Alaska.
Beltrami also gets to use AFL-CIO money to support his candidacy as a direct expenditure. Is it even legal?
For example, three recent mailers shown below were funded directly by union dollars and mailed out across District N as “member to member” communications. The recipients may have been members, but the vast majority of recipients were not.
TOGETHER FOR ALASKA IS VINCE BELTRAMI — IS ROBIN BRENA
What obscures the money trail in Alaska is the way that subsets of AFL-CIO can move money to independent expenditure groups that are likely coordinating with Beltrami behind the scenes.
Collaboration is illegal, but notice in the chart below how AFL-CIO contributed $15,000 to Together for Alaska, which in turn is pumping out media in support of Vince Beltrami, who would have authorized the expenditure. This is a funding circle: Beltrami and his unions give money to Together for Alaska, which in turn supports his campaign.
AFL-CIO member unions are heavily represented in the income stream of Together for Alaska, such as AFSCME, IBEW, IAFF, with funds coming in from all over the country for Together for Alaska, so that Beltrami and his boys can take over the Legislature.
Between the $500,000 plus that Beltrami is controlling, and the $208,000 already revealed by Together for Alaska, we can assume that more than $1 million is being spent on a handful of races that will benefit Beltrami’s goals.
He intends to move the needle. And with that, he intends to control Alaska’s political landscape.