Nearly $1M spent on Anchorage “bathroom bill” ahead of vote

A vote counting machine unloaded at Anchorage’s election central to handle the city’s first Vote By Mail (photo: Zachariah Hughes – Alaska Public Media)

Tuesday is the last day to submit ballots in Anchorage’s first-ever Vote By Mail election. Amid a packed slate of propositions and candidates, one particularly controversial measure has drawn the lion’s share of campaign money.

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Voters this year are deciding on a lot. Mayor Ethan Berkowitz is seeking a second term against his main challenger Rebecca Logan, whose campaign donations totaled less than half that of the incumbent’s. According to disclosures with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, Logan has brought in around $89,000 to Berkowitz’s $231,000.

There are also three school board seats up for election, and seven bond measures on the ballot. Residents are also asked whether the city should sell off utility Municipal Light and Power to Chugach Electric Association. And the ballot includes proposals to expand property tax exemptions for homeowners, give Whittier police authority to write parking tickets in Girdwood and bring a tract of homes in Eagle River under the Anchorage Fire Department’s protection.

Then there is Proposition 1, the so-called “bathroom bill”, a contentious proposal that has attracted a flood of campaign money — outpacing all other measures combined.

Prop 1 started as an initiative led by the conservative group Alaska Family Action and drew thousands of signatures to make it onto the ballot. The measure aims to undo part of a 2015 law that bans discrimination against residents on the basis of gender or sexuality, and would regulate public restrooms and changing facilities by a person’s biological sex at birth, rather than their self-identified gender. In campaign materials, backers say the measure is necessary to protect privacy.

The campaign in favor of Prop 1 has raised about $128,000, the majority of which is from Alaska Family Action. In the last month alone, AFA spent $75,000 on the campaign, with several thousand more coming from individual donations, and $1,100 from the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club. Much of the money raised has been spent on TV ads.

The proposition’s supporters have been outspent by its opponents more than six to one.

A coalition of groups called Fair Anchorage has raised about $824,000 to oppose the rule-change, arguing that it discriminates against transgender residents, will damage the local economy and is impractical to enforce. Many of the donations are non-monetary contributions from outside national groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Freedom for All Americans and Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaii, most of which were for compensation for staff time, services and consultations. Additionally, the group’s financial disclosures are filled with smaller individual donations. Much of the money has been spent on media ads, mailers and voter outreach.

April 3rd is the last day to submit ballots. As of Monday, the number of votes cast is on pace to surpass turnout in 2015, the last time there was a mayoral election.