Lower 48 Indian tribes help fuel Alaska Rep. Young's campaign fundraising

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 1, 2012 

WASHINGTON — Alaska Rep. Don Young nearly doubled his campaign fundraising in the last months of the year with help from Lower 48 Indian tribes and now has a lot of money and no established challengers emerging to take him on.

Young chairs the House subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs and tribal contributions poured into his campaign after a November fundraiser.

Newly released disclosures show tribes from Texas and Oklahoma, Minnesota and Michigan, California and North Dakota, were among those helping fatten his campaign account

Young now has about a half million dollars in the bank and will be bringing in more before the fall election.

The only one of Young's opponents to have so far filed a campaign financial disclosure report is perennial candidate Frank Vondersaar, who reported a budget of $300, all from his own pocket.

The Alaska Democratic Party has suggested one or more "strong contenders" could be about to emerge and challenge Young, with a filing deadline of June 1. But Anchorage pollster Jean Craciun said she can't think of anyone in Alaska who has the necessary campaign experience and fundraising ability and would be willing to step in and take on Young in the upcoming election. The political bench in Alaska is pretty thin.

"It really is all looking very well for Congressman Don Young and the status quo," she said.

The last two Democrats to take on the Republican Young in the general election, Harry Crawford and Ethan Berkowitz, said any such hopeful should have already jumped in by now and started raising money in order to have a shot.

"Given the way the fundraising rules work it's not going to happen," Berkowitz said on Tuesday.

Why are people so unwilling to challenge Young? Berkowitz spoke of the 20-term incumbent's political profile in Alaska and the fact that not everyone wants to be in the U.S. House.

"It's a horrible job. I mean you're commuting back and forth between Anchorage and D.C., you're raising money incessantly. And Don is a behemoth on the political scene," Berkowitz said.

None of the highest profile candidates from the 2010 election want the race against Young this year. Democrat Scott McAdams and Republican Joe Miller, who both tried to unseat Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the last election, said they aren't gunning for Young.

"Although he is disappointed in the Congressman's record absenteeism over the last year and is concerned about continuing allegations of Mr. Young's corrupt activity, Mr. Miller currently has no plans to run for Mr. Young's seat," Miller's political action committee said recently in an announcement. "Nevertheless, Mr. Miller is keeping all of his options open regarding elective office," Miller said in the statement.

Miller would face a tough time mounting an election run anyway if the poll numbers last spring that showed him with 73 percent unfavorable ratings were accurate and remain current.

Anchorage pollster Craciun said Young benefits from a desire to have the state's congressional delegation have positions of seniority in Congress.

"Alaskans are always concerned about the longevity piece and we lost Uncle Ted. What we've got is Uncle Don now," Craciun said

Craciun said both parties are nevertheless making a mistake in how they're handling Alaska's lone seat in the U.S. House, which Young has held since 1973. The Democrats should put up a fight and the Republicans ought to be grooming an heir apparent, she said, because the 78-year-old won't be in office forever.

Democrats Vondersaar and Doug Urquidi have filed to run for the seat. So has Republican John Cox, Libertarian Jim McDermott and non-affiliated candidates Ted Gianoutsos and Sidney Hill.

Young, meanwhile has been raking in cash. Young raised almost $200,000 in the period between October and January alone, according to his disclosure reports. More than $50,000 of that is from donors associated with Indian tribes. The United Auburn Indian Community of California, which owns the Thunder Valley Casino Resort, reported a total of $3,809 in in-kind contributions for a fundraiser and lodging but then was subsequently reimbursed by the Young campaign for that amount. The organization also gave more money to Young separately.

Young also received major donations from political action committees for the seafood and transportation industries (Young is on the House transportation committee.) His list of individual contributors in recent months included Lower 48 lobbyists as well as former Alaska gubernatorial candidate John Binkley and top executives at the Cook Inlet Region Inc. Native corporation, Margie Brown and Barbara Donatelli.

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