Some serious outside help appears to be mobilizing for Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, ahead of the 2014 election: Begich donor Jim Lottsfeldt, a strategist who has worked for politicians of both parties, is serving as the "senior adviser" to a new super PAC that aims to focus on Begich's race and spend $3 to $5 million steering the conversation toward "Alaska issues" over the next year-and-a-half.
"We looked at what happened in Montana with Jon Tester's race in 2012," Lottsfeldt said. "When outside groups spent more than the actual candidates themselves, the people of Montana were being outspent by interests that aren't based in Montana. We want to have a presence so we can have candidates beholden to Alaska first, because that's their job."
Outside groups spent $3.3 million in total during Begich's 2008 race against late GOP Sen. Ted Stevens, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But the explosion of independent spending levels since then, plus the intense national interest in the race, would seem to guarantee much more outside investment in next year's contest.
Lottsfeldt, whose past clients include Begich and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, said the Put Alaska First PAC is "strongly non-partisan" and will "support the candidate or candidates that are good for Alaska's economy." (That could include the state's at-large House race, though Lottsfeldt said the Senate race would be the focus.) Lottsfeldt said Begich would definitely qualify for the PAC's support given his work on resource development in the Senate, but he didn't rule out the PAC supporting a Republican, too, after the field had firmed up.
Lottsfeldt didn't have words of praise for any of the GOP candidates, however. On Joe Miller, the Republican lawyer who beat Murkowski in the 2010 primary but lost to her write-in effort in the general election, Lottsfeldt said Miller was more interested in partisan national issues than he was in Alaska. Lottsfeldt said he knows and likes Lt. Gov Mead Treadwell, who has announced he's running, and Department of Public Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, who is rumored to be interested in running, but the PAC adviser added that both of them are "blank slates" without any records to judge.
"As lieutenant governor, you don't vote on anything," Lottsfeldt laughed. "You guard the state seal and conduct elections. I don't know what he stands for." He said Sullivan was "a bureaucrat who's worked for Gov. Palin and Gov. Parnell, and we really don't have a sense of who he is."
None of those comments sound like they come from a supportive outside group. Lottsfeldt has given $4,500 to Begich since 2008, according to federal campaign contribution records. He has also donated to Murkowski and Democrats' 2010 Senate nominee, Scott McAdams.
If the PAC can meet its budget, Lottsfeldt said it plans to spend on TV, radio and mail, but it also wants to focus on building a field organization to register and turn out more Alaska voters. Lottsfeldt singled out Alaska Natives as one group whose turnout he'd like to boost, noting that many Natives who move from smaller villages to Alaska's bigger cities don't re-register. Alaska Natives were a critical voter bloc for Begich in his narrow 2008 victory, though Lottsfeldt noted that they are not monolithic Democratic supporters.