Over the next year, millions of dollars are expected to enter Alaska in the form of campaign spending. The Alaska Senate race could end up being one of the more expensive races in the country, because Republicans need to unseat Democrat Mark Begich if they want to take control of Congress. Since much of the money is going to be spent on political ads, some state legislators would like to see stronger federal disclosure laws, so voters know who’s paying for the airtime.
If you spend any time watching local television, there’s a good chance you’ve seen this during a commercial break:
ACTRESS: For too many of us, costs are going way up. Sen. Begich didn’t listen. How can I ever trust him again? It just isn’t fair. Alaska deserves better.
NARRATOR: Call Sen. Begich. Tell him no more broken promises. Stop Obamacare.
The ad was put together by the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, and it’s been criticized for being filmed in a Lower-48 kitchen and for featuring a Maryland actress.
But Democratic state legislators Hollis French and Les Gara have a bigger problem with the ad than the shooting location. They think it should name the organization who paid for it, and who their top donors are. Alaska law already requires that of campaign ads in state elections, but no such rule exists at the federal level.
“When you peel back the layers, you realize it’s just a couple of super wealthy individuals that are funding these,” says French, who is also a candidate for lieutenant governor. “I think it makes a difference if their names have to be read as the person funding the advertisement.”
In the case of Americans for Prosperity, that would be Texas billionaires David and Charles Koch, who operate a multinational conglomerate with interests in Alaska.
“It’d be, you know, the first Koch brother, the second Koch brother, and then they’d probably run out of donors unless they’ve got some third person to throw in some money,” jokes French.
French and Gara held a small rally to draw attention to the issue in Anchorage on Tuesday, and they plan to introduce a resolution this upcoming legislative session that would ask Congress to pass stronger disclosure laws.
They want to see something like the so-called DISCLOSE Act, which was introduced after the Supreme Court decided corporations had the right to make campaign expenditures. That bill would have put a number of limits on corporations, and one of the measures in it would have made interest groups list their donors at the end of attack ads.
The bill lost momentum in Congress after being filibustered in the Senate. But French wants Congress to revisit the law, so campaign ads in federal races are treated the same as ads in state races.
“Come on, Congress,” says French. “If we could do it, you can do it.”
Alaska’s congressional delegation is largely on board. Sen. Mark Begich originally supported the DISCLOSE Act, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski has introduced separate legislation that would tighten rules for political action committees. Rep. Don Young voted against the DISCLOSE Act, and still opposes the legislation.
For its part, Virginia-based Americans for Prosperity doesn’t like the DISCLOSE Act. They think their donors could be harassed or face other negative consequences for supporting their organization.
Michael Macleod-Ball with the American Civil Liberties Union says that whether or not you like a group’s message, that’s a legitimate concern for free speech advocates. He cites an effort by opponents of the civil rights movement to make the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People reveal their membership list.
“People were in fear of their lives for being disclosed as members of the NAACP,” says Macleod-Ball. “Times are different now, but there are always organizations where membership in that organization presents a particular threat.”
Americans for Prosperity also holds that Gara and French are raising the issue as a way of deflecting negative attention from a fellow Democrat.
“They bring it up just as we start holding the Senator accountable for his Obamacare vote,” says AFP President Tim Phillips.
And as far as that ad with the Maryland actress? Phillips is standing by it. He says it’s the message that matters, and that Alaskans should expect see more spots like it on television going into campaign season.
“I think you’re going to see additional ads coming from us,” says Phillips.
No word on shooting location yet. Phillips says decisions involving set and casting have yet to be decided.