National & State Level Conservative Groups Ramping Up Presence in Anc Mayor’s Race

Amy Demboski surrounded by supporters, including one holding a sign with the middle cut-out, a reference to attacks last week against her campaign posters. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)
Amy Demboski surrounded by supporters at Election Central on Tuesday night, including one holding a sign with the middle cut-out, a reference to attacks last week against her campaign posters. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)

Major conservative political groups are stepping into the Anchorage mayor’s race. The May runoff between Amy Demboski and Ethan Berkowitz is drawing increasing attention from state and national organizations hoping to influence local politics.

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Americans For Prosperity is a political group based in Virginia, backed by the Koch brothers, that advocates for conservative causes. They don’t endorse candidates, but will be seeking to inform Anchorage voters about their two choices for mayor.

“We’ve identified Ethan’s record as one that’s troubling, and we think will be devastating to the residents of Anchorage,” said Jeremy Price, spokesman for the Alaska chapter of AFP.

Price said that in the past Berkowitz has supported higher taxes and larger government. AFP is still developing a strategy for how to connect with voters, and that will determine whether or not they’re required to file financial disclosures with the Alaska Political Offices Commission.

“We don’t disclose who our donors are,” Price said, though he admits that funding comes from both inside and outside of the state. “But the longer our presence in Alaska is, the more we receive donations from Alaskans.”

Political Action Groups are barred from coordinating with campaigns directly. However, the Demboski campaign does appear to be drawing more heavily on the state’s conservative political resources as it picks up steam.

Before winning the second slot in the runoff election, Demboski received endorsements from high-profile conservative politicians Mead Treadwell and Joe Miller. Now, Miller’s former advisor, Matt Johnson, is working as Demboski’s volunteer coordinator.

And, as of two weeks ago, she has brought on David Boyle to handle communications. Boyle was the chairman for the 2008 McCain/Palin campaign in Alaska.

“Conservatives in this city–from fiscal conservatives to social conservatives–will see that there’s a very distinct difference between Amy Demboski principals and policies, and her opponents’ more liberal policies,” Boyle said by phone.

For the last several years, Boyle has led the Alaska Policy Forum, a conservative think-tank that advises state legislators on issues like education and healthcare reform. The organization also publishes a controversial index of how much municipal employees are paid. The policy forum has received support in the past from a network of state-level groups promoting conservative public policy, and both local and national media outlets have cited the lack of transparency in the groups’ own finances, which are reported to be linked to major Republican donors like the Koch brothers.

Boyle says this weekend the Demboski staff will be drafting policy points and a campaign strategy for the weeks ahead.

“As you know, the Assembly has a liberal majority on it, and I think we need some balance there,” Boyle added. “So I think we need a conservative mayor, and Amy’s going to provide that.”

The Berkowitz campaign is also receiving support from Political Action Groups, though they are more parochial and traditional players in local politics. Anchorage labor and public employee unions have donated to the Berkowitz campaign, and the National Education Association’s Anchorage chapter is supporting him. The Alaska Democratic Party made robocalls and sent out emails to registered party members during the first phase of the election.

“We’ll be contacting voters in a variety of ways,” said Travis Smith, communications director for the party, “phoning and door-knocking, for example.”

The Berkowitz campaign disagrees with the claims about his record from Americans for Prosperity. Communications Manager Nora Morse said that during his time in the Legislature, Berkowitz was part of a bipartisan coalition that worked on budget solutions when oil was $9 a barrel.

“I think that’s very interesting that Americans for Prosperity is playing in this mayor’s race, and the fact that they’re coming in claiming to care what Anchorage voters want, when really Anchorage voters are talking about, number one, public safety, the city budget, and public education,” Morse said by phone. “They haven’t talked about any of those issues, and that raises some red flags.”

Candidates met Friday with the officials from the union representing the Anchorage Police Department, who have so far not made any endorsements in the mayor’s race.

Correction: The original version of this story cited Matt Johnson as Amy Demboski’s campaign manager.