The fundraising prowess of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is impressive.
But what some of her challengers find unimpressive and outright unfair is that a hefty chunk of her campaign treasury comes from a corporate titan who also wields the power of the pen in Alaska’s biggest newspaper.
Bill Allen is the chairman of Veco Corp., an Anchorage-based energy services company, and is also publisher of the conservative Voice of the Times, an editorial section that runs daily in the Anchorage Daily News.
Allen was publisher of the now-defunct Anchorage Times, a daily newspaper that folded and was absorbed by the larger Daily News in 1992. The Daily News continues to run the separate editorial page of the defunct paper — in addition to its own — through a unique arrangement with Allen as a way to preserve the Times’ conservative editorial voice, said Steve Lindbeck, associate editor of the Daily News.
What ruffles the feathers of other Senate candidates is that Allen is anything but non-partisan, and even within the Republican Party he seems to pick and choose certain candidates to support financially.
A search on PoliticalMoneyLine.com shows that Allen has made a dozen political contributions this election cycle and all but one went to Republican candidates or organizations.
He did contribute $2,000 to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), whose close friendship with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is well documented.
While it makes sense that a conservative publisher would support Republican candidates, what has candidates in Alaska’s Senate race crying foul is his close financial relationship with Murkowski in particular.
He has personally contributed $3,000 to Murkowski’s campaign this cycle. He has also donated $1,000 to her political action committee, Denali PAC. And he has donated to the leadership PACs of both Stevens and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), which in turn have each donated $10,000 to Murkowski’s election campaign.
Furthermore, Allen hosted a fundraiser at his home for Murkowski in May, and Veco employees collectively are the second-largest donor to Murkowski’s campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a political watchdog group.
“The Voice of the Times really should come with a disclaimer that says ‘paid advertisement,’” said Jim Sykes, the Green Party’s Senate candidate. “The people who work there have an agenda, and that is to promote a pro-Republican, pro-oil platform. It really should be called the Veco Times.”
Veco and others helped Murkowski set a state record for fundraising this year, according to her campaign.
She has raised $3.3 million for the cycle, $881,000 in the second quarter and ended June 30 with $1.25 million in the bank, her campaign revealed Tuesday.
Knowles by comparison raised almost $920,000 for the quarter, bringing his cycle-to-date to $2.67 million raised and leaving him with $977,000 in the bank.
GOP Senate candidate Wev Shea, who has been taken to task on the editorial page before, said that each editorial boosting Murkowski or denigrating one of her competitors should be considered a political contribution.
“Conservatively, it costs $2,500 to run a half-page ad in the Daily News,” Shea said. “Multiply that by 30 and that’s how much Allen’s contribution to Murkowski” should be calculated each month, Shea said.
A spokesman for the Federal Election Commission said that while the situation is unusual, someone would have to prove cooperation between the Murkowski campaign and Allen before the agency could determine that there had been a violation of campaign law.
Elliot Bundy, Murkowski’s campaign spokesman, said Allen is simply exercising his constitutional rights.
A person has the “free speech right to print what you want to and as a concerned citizen you have the right to support any candidate that you want,” he said.
“Any time the Daily News runs a pro-Tony Knowles editorial, is it a campaign contribution?” Bundy asked, applying the same logic to editorials on the former governor and Democratic Senate candidate.
But Knowles’ campaign also questions the legality of Allen’s tactics.
“Sen. Murkowski will take special-interest contributions any way she can, even if it is legally or ethically questionable,” said Knowles’ spokesman, Matt McKenna.
For their part, neither the Daily News nor the Voice of the Times sees a legal problem, let alone a conflict of interest.
Lindbeck said that the Voice of the Times is completely independent of the Daily News.
“There’s no textbook for this kind of situation,” he said, acknowledging its rarity.
As to the ethical question for the Voice of the Times, Lindbeck said: “How they handle their sense of ethics is up to them.”
William Tobin, senior editor for the Voice of the Times, says that Allen and Veco’s business dealings have nothing to do with, and no effect on, the page’s editorial content.
“We don’t go to fundraisers, we don’t say anything — we editorially talk about the campaign,” he said, referring to the page’s editorial board.
Tobin said the page is meant to balance the Daily News’ editorial bent. “We’re conservative and they’re liberal,” he said.
Lindbeck, of the Daily News, said that most of the community understands the arrangement and has no problem with it.
As to the details of the arrangement — beyond that Allen pays “production costs” for the page and that he and the Daily News, which is owned by McClatchy Newspapers, renegotiate it every five years — Lindbeck said only that the Daily News publisher, Michael Sexton, and Allen could expound further.
Neither returned phone calls for this story.
Mike Miller, a former state Senate president who is challenging Murkowski in the GOP Senate primary, said he does not get worked up when Allen’s editorial board works him over.
“I view it for what it is — that it’s an editorial statement, someone’s opinion,” Miller said. “Sometimes it’s quite comical.”
Kristin Pugh, a Murkowski campaign spokeswoman, said Allen alone does not decide what the Voice of the Times writes.
“He has an entire editorial board,” she said. “It’s not a decision he makes on his own.”
Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, says he does not see a conflict.
“They are in effect preserving a voice that existed before,” he said of the arrangement.
The paper should however, make people aware of Allen’s activism and Veco ties, Rosenstiel said.
“The community should be sufficiently aware of the other activities of this gentleman,” he said. “The paper should have enough coverage of Allen’s activities” — but a daily disclaimer would be overboard.