After last year’s loss, Anchorage alcohol tax boosters bring in Mark Begich’s firm for this year’s campaign

Former U.S. Senator Mark Begich, pictured in Juneau in 2018, runs a political consulting firm that’s been hired to push a 5 percent alcohol tax in Anchorage. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

After losing at the polls last year, supporters of a 5% alcohol tax in Anchorage say a better public opinion campaign could make the difference when the measure goes before voters again in April. And this time, they’ve enlisted the help of a veteran Anchorage political strategist: former mayor and U.S. senator Mark┬áBegich.

Last year, 54 percent of voters rejected the alcohol tax. But supporters say this year’s Proposition 13 is different. It bars the city from increasing the tax without voter approval, requires an annual report of revenues collected and spent, and restricts the use of the money to specific purposes related to public safety, child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence and homelessness.

[Read more: Anchorage to decide again on an alcohol tax]

The pro-tax campaign is called Yes for a Safe, Healthy Anchorage. Its backers include Brown Jug liquor stores, Providence Health and Services, the Anchorage police union, Alaska Children’s Trust and Recover Alaska, a group that fights excessive drinking. 

The group hired Begich’s consulting firm, Northern Compass Group, for $15,000 earlier this month, according to a campaign finance report filed last week. Clare Boersma, who worked as an aide to Begich in the U.S. Senate, is leading the project for his consulting firm.

“As a local Anchorage business, we’re committed to doing things that we think are in the best interest of the community,” she said. “Prop 13 is a common sense measure that will provide dedicated revenues to things we know people in the community want to see.”

Tiffany Hall, Recover Alaska’s executive director, said Northern Compass Group has a “good track record” and that she appreciated the specific experience in municipal experience that the firm brings to the campaign.

While Begich is a Democrat, the pro-tax group has also hired the media consulting firm run by prominent Anchorage conservative Mike Porcaro.

The group has reported contributions of about $85,000 so far. It’s aiming to raise around $370,000, Hall said.

That’s about what tax opponents raised in last year’s campaign, compared to just $40,000 that was raised by the pro-tax group.

“We knew that in order to have a shot at all, we would have to really outraise and outspend what happened last year,” Hall said. “We’re hoping to give them a solid fight.”

The bar and alcohol industry-funded Alaskans Against Unfair Alcohol Taxes has reported spending about $45,000 so far this year, while the owner of the downtown bar Darwin’s Theory has spent $3,500 out of his own pocket.