$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. 
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Andrea Drusch
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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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