WASHINGTON — Both of Sen. Lisa Murkowski's opponents have attacked the money being spent by an independent coalition of Alaska Native regional corporations backing her write-in bid for U.S. Senate.
Several regional corporations have contributed as much as $140,000 each for a total of $805,000 to Alaskans Standing Together, a new political action committee independent of Murkowski's campaign but established with the sole purpose of supporting her candidacy. The coalition also includes the Alaska Professional Fire Fighters Association and the National Education Association Alaska. It so far has spent $595,000 on television ads backing Murkowski.
Although Murkowski's Republican opponent, Joe Miller, also has benefited from similar big-money groups, on Thursday he accused the Native corporations of "trying to buy the election." Recently, Alaska Native firms have been under scrutiny for the no-bid federal contracts they're eligible for under the U.S. Small Business Administration's 8(a) program, and some in Congress have suggested changing the guidelines for awarding contracts.
"This is business as usual for the corporations and for Sen. Murkowski," Miller said in a written statement. "She has opposed changes to the disadvantaged business program and she is getting 'rewarded' for that opposition."
The Democrat in the race, Scott McAdams, took a different approach, blaming the U.S. Supreme Court for opening up politics to unlimited corporate donations. If he's elected, McAdams said, he'd move to pass a campaign finance law backed by Democratic leaders in the Senate and President Barack Obama. He also seized on a claim the White House has been hammering in recent weeks: that unlimited corporate money has the potential to give foreign-owned corporations a say in U.S. elections.
"As a small state, Alaska can't afford to allow its elections to be overtaken by corporate spending," McAdams said. "Unfortunately, Sen. Murkowski has voted to allow corporations, including foreign corporate money, to continue to influence elections."
Outside independent expenditure groups are playing a major role in the Alaska Senate race -- and those across the country. In previous elections, such contributions wouldn't have been legal, but the recent Citizens United Supreme Court decision allows corporate and union donors to inject unlimited amounts of money into politics.
Alaskans Standing Together is among the first tests of the new so-called "super PACs," political action committees that are springing up in the wake of the Citizens United ruling.
So far in Alaska, such independent outside groups have boosted spending in the Senate race by $1.4 million. Most of the money goes toward television advertising, and in Alaska, it's all gone toward supporting or opposing Miller and Murkowski. McAdams so far hasn't so received any support from such groups.
Until this week, Miller was the major beneficiary of independent money, most notably from the Tea Party Express and the Senate Conservatives Fund backed by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. The groups have spent $774,716 so far in the race, including the primary. Independent groups have spent another $18,217 on advertising opposing Murkowski.
Jason Moore, a spokesman for Alaskans Standing Together, said the coalition operates within the disclosure rules established by the Federal Election Commission.
"I'm surprised about Miller's criticism, because he's not only bringing in unlimited contributions, but he has them coming from outside Alaska," Moore said. "We're just operating within the rules of what the FEC allows. We didn't set the rules, we're just playing by them."
Moore also said that unlike some of the other independent groups accepting unlimited corporate money, they've established Alaskans Standing Together in a way that requires them to fully disclose their donors. They will accept contributions only from Alaskans, Alaska-based companies or companies that do significant business in the state, Moore said.
"Who are these people?" Moore said of some of the other committees pumping money into Alaska. "At least we've identified who we are. Everyone knows these corporations and the areas they represent here in Alaska."
Murkowski's campaign had no comment on the boost from Alaskans Standing Together.
Separate from the independent groups, campaign filings show that without their influence, Murkowski's campaign was outraised by both Miller and McAdams in the weeks between the Aug. 24 primary election and the close of a Sept. 30 fundraising reporting deadline.
The McAdams campaign raised $685,000 in the period between the Aug. 24 primary and the Sept. 30 fundraising deadline, his campaign said this week. Since the deadline, the campaign brought in an additional $185,000, said spokeswoman Heather Handyside. McAdams, who started with almost nothing, raised $870,000 total, his campaign said.
Meanwhile, Murkowski raised $306,378 between the primary and Sept. 30, her campaign said Thursday. Murkowski, who had more than $1 million in her campaign account following the primary, started with an advantage as she launched her write-in bid. She has about $1.2 million remaining in the bank, according to her FEC filing.
Miller pulled in an estimated $450,000 online, according to his campaign. The official fundraising numbers aren't in yet -- the campaigns aren't required to turn them in to the FEC until today at midnight.
Meanwhile, the anti-tax and anti-earmark group Club for Growth announced it will try to force Murkowski to return some of the money she has in her campaign war chest. The group's aim is to get Murkowski to return contributions from people who supported her in the general election but who don't support her write-in campaign against a fellow Republican.
The group has begun sending out letters to 1,500 of her donors asking if they want their contributions back. The letter will include a form addressed to the Murkowski campaign that donors can use to ask for a refund.
"Lisa Murkowski received this money running as a Republican, and now she's running against the Republican," said the club's president, Chris Chocola. "She promised to support the winner of the Republican Primary, then broke her word."
The Club for Growth has used the same tactic in several races where candidates switched parties, including when Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter switched to the Democratic Party from the Republican Party, and in the Florida Senate race when Gov. Charlie Crist dropped his GOP registration and became an independent.
In Pennsylvania, the Club for Growth got the Specter campaign to turn over about $800,000, after he pledged to return money to anyone who asked for it back. Murkowski has not made such a promise.