Alaska Senate Candidate Wants to Ban Outside Money — but Only in Alaska

Dan Sullivan, a Republican Senate candidate, proposed a pledge to limit outside spending in his race against Mark Begich.

National Journal
Andrea Drusch
June 10, 2014, 1:06 p.m.

Former Alaska At­tor­ney Gen­er­al and cur­rent Sen­ate can­did­ate Dan Sul­li­van sup­ports out­side groups spend­ing big money on polit­ic­al cam­paigns — just not in his state.

Sul­li­van on Tues­day asked his Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent, Sen. Mark Be­gich, to sign a pledge stop­ping third-party groups from air­ing TV ads in Alaska. The pro­posed agree­ment, which Sul­li­van said he de­livered to a Be­gich cam­paign of­fice Tues­day, would stip­u­late that if any group runs ads in Alaska after Ju­ly 4, the be­ne­fit­ing can­did­ate’s cam­paign would have to make a con­tri­bu­tion to char­ity worth half the amount of the ad buy. (Party com­mit­tees, such as the Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, would be ex­cluded from the agree­ment.)

It’s a move re­min­is­cent of the “People’s Pledge” in 2012, a deal struck between Demo­crat Eliza­beth War­ren and then-Sen. Scott Brown, a Re­pub­lic­an, to lim­it out­side in­flu­ence on their Mas­sachu­setts Sen­ate race. And it comes in a state that out­side groups have made a top tar­get in 2014 — col­lect­ively, they’ve already re­served $20 mil­lion worth of TV ads there, an enorm­ous sum for a state with a sparse pop­u­la­tion.

“This is noth­ing new; it has been done, it works,” Sul­li­van said in a con­fer­ence call with re­port­ers. “All it takes now to work in Alaska is to have Mark Be­gich’s sig­na­ture on it.”¦ This is one point on which we should see eye to eye.”

The Demo­crat hasn’t yet offered up a po­s­i­tion on the pledge. But the Re­pub­lic­an was less ready to an­swer wheth­er such out­side spend­ing should be al­lowed in oth­er states.

Asked by Na­tion­al Journ­al wheth­er Sul­li­van sup­por­ted the Su­preme Court’s 2010 Cit­izens United de­cision, which con­trib­uted to the rise of power­ful out­side groups such as Amer­ic­an Cross­roads and Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity PAC, Sul­li­van de­murred, say­ing he very much sup­ports “strong free speech.” The pledge, he said, was not a ref­er­ence to Cit­izens United.

Sul­li­van failed to dir­ectly an­swer two fol­low-up ques­tions about Cit­izens United from loc­al me­dia in Alaska, one of which asked wheth­er all states shouldn’t have the priv­ilege of elec­tions free from out­side in­flu­ence.

“This is not about Cit­izen United, this is not about le­gis­la­tion pending or look­ing to be in­tro­duced in Con­gress,” Sul­li­van said. “This is about the way we think this race should be con­duc­ted in Alaska to give our cit­izens voice.”¦This is an un­pre­ced­en­ted sum of third-party spe­cial-in­terest money.”

In a fol­low-up call after the con­ver­sa­tion, cam­paign spokes­man Mike An­der­son gave the first af­firm­at­ive sup­port for the de­cision. “At the end of the day, Dan does sup­port Cit­izens United,” An­der­son said.

This is the first time Sul­li­van has voiced his opin­ion on the de­cision, but he wrote in a re­sponse to the As­so­ci­ated Press in June that “Sen. Be­gich has had more than five years to ad­dress the in­flu­ence of out­side groups in elec­tions” and still hadn’t ac­com­plished any­thing.

Sul­li­van is still in the midst of a three-way race for the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­a­tion. He will take on Lt. Gov. Mead Tread­well and 2010 Sen­ate can­did­ate Joe Miller on Aug. 14.

Sul­li­van said Tread­well and Miller had not been asked to sign the pledge be­cause they hadn’t yet been hit by out­side ads.

Be­gich’s cam­paign fired back with a re­sponse that af­ter­noon cri­ti­ciz­ing Sul­li­van’s hes­it­a­tion on the ques­tion.

“Sul­li­van again tried to tell Alaskans one thing, but then quickly re­vealed the truth today — he sup­ports al­low­ing cor­por­a­tions to en­gage in un­lim­ited spend­ing in our elec­tions,” said Susanne Fleek-Green, cam­paign man­ager for Alaskans for Be­gich. “If Dan Sul­li­van makes it out of his com­pet­it­ive primary, it will be a stark con­trast between his put-cor­por­a­tions-first po­s­i­tion and Sen­at­or Be­gich’s sup­port for real cam­paign fin­ance re­form, in­clud­ing sup­port of a con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment throw­ing out Cit­izens United.

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