$7.5 Million Day in Alaska Highlights Skyrocketing Outside Spending

In 2008, outside groups spent $3.3 million on Sen. Mark Begich’s race. Two groups this week laid out plans to more than double that.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 09: U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) (R) speaks at a press conference highlighting how veterans are being impacted by the government shutdown with (L-R) Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) at the U.S. Capitol October 9, 2013 in Washington, DC. During the event, Tester and others discussed how critical veterans services are being affected by the shutdown. 
National Journal
Andrea Drusch
May 13, 2014, 10:33 a.m.

Alaska is about to get hit by a wave. Just this week, Demo­crat­ic out­side groups plunked down $7.5 mil­lion worth of re­ser­va­tions for fall TV ad­vert­ising sup­port­ing Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Be­gich, a huge amount of money for a state where me­dia comes re­l­at­ively cheap. Just by it­self, the new re­ser­va­tion more than doubles the total out­side spend­ing in Alaska in 2008, when Be­gich won his Sen­ate seat.

Put Alaska First, a su­per PAC back­ing Be­gich and largely fin­anced by an­oth­er Wash­ing­ton-based group, an­nounced on Monday plans to re­serve $4 mil­lion in air­time, ac­cord­ing to Alaska Dis­patch, while the Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee is also pre­par­ing to spend $3.5 mil­lion in the same post-Labor Day time peri­od, Politico re­por­ted.

Out­side groups spent a total of $3.3 mil­lion on Alaska’s 2008 Sen­ate race, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics, a fig­ure the groups could each sur­pass on their own. And fil­ings with the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion show that Put Alaska First has already spent about $1.4 mil­lion on this year’s cam­paign.

The state very much views it­self as in­de­pend­ent from the “lower 48,” but the in­flux of out­side money — likely not very wel­come to any res­id­ents who want to watch TV un­dis­turbed this fall — demon­strates Alaska’s con­nec­tion to cam­paign fin­ance trends across the coun­try. Out­side spend­ing rates have ex­ploded in re­cent years.

Just a dec­ade ago when Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Lisa Murkowski sought her first full term against former Demo­crat­ic Gov. Tony Knowles, out­side groups spent a grand total of $4.1 mil­lion in Alaska. Six years later, as Murkowski ran for reelec­tion, that num­ber had in­creased only to $4.5 mil­lion.

Now in the midst of what’s ex­pec­ted to be a re­cord year for polit­ic­al spend­ing, one single group will sur­pass that amount on its own.

Put Alaska First widened some eyes in 2013 when an ad­viser said it planned to spend between $3 mil­lion to $5 mil­lion on Be­gich’s race, an un­heard-of sum. Now, its planned spend­ing is so massive it could end up push­ing some state and loc­al can­did­ates off the sat­ur­ated TV air­waves. And as one of just a hand­ful of battle­ground states where Re­pub­lic­ans see op­por­tun­it­ies to pick up the six seats they need to flip con­trol of the Sen­ate, buys like these are a siren for states with more ex­pens­ive me­dia mar­kets, where few plans for au­tumn are settled — but the wave is com­ing.

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