WASHINGTON — A Louisiana family with interest in offshore Arctic drilling and Lower 48 tribes that run casinos all gave heavily to Alaska Rep. Don Young in the 2012 election cycle and have helped position him to scare off future rivals.
Young’s fundraising haul and weak opposition in this year’s election leaves him with more than half a million dollars in unspent funds to use against future opponents.
The Republican has two years until the next election to add to the total, and most of it likely will come from out of state.
“It’s very intimidating,” said Harry Crawford, a Democrat who ran against Young in 2010. “If you’re trying to raise money here in Alaska, like I did, it’s just not here. You don’t raise a million to $2 million here.”
Just four years ago, Young was struggling to raise money and had to send out a fundraising appeal to lobbyists for help. He’d spent more than a million dollars of his campaign contributions on lawyers to defend himself against an FBI corruption investigation and was faced with a dwindling war chest.
But the FBI closed the case with an August 2010 memo saying “it was determined that there was ultimately not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to ultimately convict Congressman Young." Young hasn’t broken a sweat since, blowing out his challengers in each of the past two elections.
This year his Democratic challenger, Sharon Cissna, had $8,308 in contributions and spent $5,565, records show. She received 28 percent of the vote.
“I think he’s pretty much going to be in Congress until he decides he doesn’t want to be there anymore,” said Anchorage pollster Ivan Moore.
The 79-year-old Young already has announced plans to run again in 2014. It would be his 22nd term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Young says his wins aren’t about fundraising, but about connecting with Alaskans. “This has never been about Don Young and getting a job,” he recently told the Associated Press.
Young’s top campaign contributor is Edison Chouest Offshore, a Louisiana company whose Alaska interests include an icebreaking ship it built for Shell’s efforts to drill in Arctic waters.
Individuals associated with the company have given Young $30,000 over the past two years, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
That doesn’t count $60,000 worth of checks for Young’s separate legal defense fund that came from companies owned by the Chouest family.
Edison Chouest is also among the top donors to the other members of Alaska’s delegation, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.
The “casinos/gambling” industry gave Young more than $100,000, the most he received from any industry, the Center for Responsive Politics analysis shows.
That includes $7,000 from the National Indian Gaming Association.
Tribes that run casinos have also given generously to Young, including nearly $10,000 from individuals with the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. Young has influence over casinos and other tribal issues as chairman of the House subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.
Nearly 70 percent of Young’s campaign money in the past two years came from outside of Alaska. It’s a roadblock faced by challengers around the country, who are at a disadvantage from incumbents who get campaign donations from the same interests that lobby them in Congress.
Among the problems for Alaska Democrats is that their national party has shown no recent interest in investing its money on long-shot efforts to beat Young.
“There are people I think could beat him. But it would be a major effort and they’ve got to be a proven fundraiser. Someone who can really raise outside money as well as get votes here in Alaska,” said Crawford, who fell short in his own attempt to unseat Young.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @seancockerham