WASHINGTON — Calling Sen. Lisa Murkowski "bought and paid for" by a political committee made up of Alaska Native corporations, Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller on Wednesday filed a complaint with the Federal Election Committee.
Miller on Wednesday accused nine of the Native regional corporations that make up Alaskans Standing Together and two of its officers of violating federal laws that bar federal contractors from contributing to any political party, committee or candidate for federal office.
The committee, which is independent from Murkowski but supports her write-in bid, has pumped $1 million so far into Murkowski's race. It's proving to be one of the first tests of new campaign finance rules in the wake of the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision, which allows unlimited donations from corporations and unions to certain types of political committees.
Alaskans Standing Together said Wednesday that it was "more confident than ever" it had followed the law, and called the complaint "a desperate move" on Miller's part "to salvage an imploding campaign."
"Joe Miller likes to wrap himself in the U.S. Constitution while trampling on it at the same time," said Will Anderson, the committee's chairman. "First his bodyguards handcuff a reporter for asking questions at a public event. Now he is trying to handcuff the Alaska Native community from having a voice in this campaign while he brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars from groups outside Alaska."
Anderson pointed to a 1998 FEC advisory opinion that found it was acceptable for a parent corporation with subsidiaries that are federal contractors to make donations to a political action committee if it has other sources of revenue than the subsidiaries. That and the findings of the Citizens United case give his group a solid legal foundation, Anderson said.
Campaign finance experts are divided on whether the donations are allowable.
It's "uncharted water," said Ken Gross, former associate general counsel of the FEC. That's in part because the Citizens United case didn't address the question of federal contractors.
But because the corporations contributing to Alaskans Standing Together are not government contractors themselves, the federal prohibition on government contractor contributions might not apply, said Tara Malloy of the Campaign Legal Center.
It's now up to the FEC to decide the matter -- although the highly politicized regulatory agency won't take it up until after the election. And even then, the FEC's board is often split down the middle. The six-member commission needs four votes to determine there's enough evidence to proceed with investigations, and it is often split 3-3 along ideological lines.
Alaskans Standing Together has the backing of Ahtna Inc., Arctic Slope Regional Corp., Bristol Bay Native Corp., Bering Straits Native Corp., Calista Corp., Chugach Alaska Corp., Cook Inlet Region Inc., Doyon Limited, Koniag Inc., NANA Regional Corp. and Sealaska Corp.
In recent years, 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. Some in Congress have suggested changing the guidelines for awarding contracts.
Miller in a statement said that the donations from Native corporations and Murkowski's support of their agenda reflected what he described as a "shocking" level of corruption.
"Their efforts to preserve the status quo and re-elect their 'bought and paid for' Senator are not even bound by the law," he said. "The Alaskan Native corporations have reaped billions from questionable set-asides and federal contracting programs and Senator Murkowski has fought efforts to reform them. We now know why."
The Miller campaign earlier this week also accused Murkowski of coordinating with Alaskans Standing Together because her name appeared in the signature line of a form that asks the committee to avow it's not working with any candidate or party committee. Alaskans Standing Together said it was a mistake, and that they had experienced difficulties uploading the form to the FEC website.
Murkowski's campaign manager Kevin Sweeney said Wednesday that neither Murkowski nor her campaign has had anything to do with campaigns run by any political action committee or any other outside entity. He accused Miller of lying.
"Joe Miller continues to blame other people, he continues to tell lies, he continues to deny accusations even when clear and convincing evidence is placed on the record," Sweeney said. "He has made his time at West Point a central theme in his campaign. Yet he has clearly disregarded the Academy's honor code to 'not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.' His behavior is unbecoming of an officer, a gentleman and a candidate for the United States Senate."
Democrat Scott McAdams weighed in too, saying he wouldn't accept corporate money in his own campaign -- or money from corporate political action committees.
"There is already a tremendous amount of special interest and corporate money in this Senate race," McAdams said in a statement. "Unfortunately, it is very difficult for voters to find out who is giving to candidate's campaign without the candidates themselves posting the information."
McAdams also criticized the transparency of Senate campaign financial disclosure reports and called on all of the candidates to release the names of their donors on their campaign websites. Murkowski posted a copy of her most recent FEC report on her website on Oct. 14.
Separately from the campaigns, independent expenditure groups have so far in this election pumped $2.6 million into the Alaska Senate race, with $1.5 million for Miller and $1.1 million toward Murkowski.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee this week disclosed it had devoted an additional $311,942 to campaign advertising on Miller's behalf. He got another $54,283 from Sen. Jim DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund Wednesday, for a total of $236,635 so far from the conservative South Carolina Republican.