Dunleavy shadow campaign shows how rich people can bankroll Alaska candidate

Francis Dunleavy, the former JPMorgan Executive who faced accusations of manipulating U.S. energy markets, has bumped his investment in his brother's campaign for governor in Alaska to $150,000.

Francis, who lives in Houston, Texas, is the largest contributor to the group running a shadow campaign on behalf of Republican Mike Dunleavy, who quit the Alaska Senate to run for governor.

The shadow campaign is allowed, according to the Alaska Public Offices Commission, because of the 2010 Citizens United court decision.

There is a state law limiting contributions to shadow groups to $500, but the APOC has rejected a case challenging its conclusion that the law has been made irrelevant by the U.S. Supreme Court. The way to get around the $500 limit is to set up a shadow campaign that can collect unlimited cash and have no technical or official coordination with the "real" campaign.

The other big donors to "Dunleavy for Alaska" are Alaska businessman Bob Penney, $100,000, and Josh Pepperd, president of Davis Constructors & Engineers, $50,000. 

Instead of being allowed to give a total of $1,500 to the Dunleavy campaign, which would not be enough to make an impact on the public, Penney, Pepperd and Francis Dunleavy have provided a total of $300,000 so far, which is enough to have an impact. There are a handful of smaller contributors.

Dunleavy for Alaska is not allowed to have any official connection with Dunleay's campaign, which is called "Alaskans for Dunleavy." From the outside, the two campaign operations are almost indistinguishable, except for the fine print that says the shadow campaign is not authorized, paid for or approved by Mike Dunleavy.

It is not hard to meet that standard and to perform better than any organization approved by the candidate, mainly because the shadow campaign isn't hampered by the $500 contribution limit. The shadow campaign gives rich people a chance to use their wealth to have a much greater influence on the election. It's already done that by spreading Dunleavy's image across the state.

The campaigns use similar images, themes and language in describing Dunleavy and "standing tall" for Alaska, an obvious choice given that Dunleavy is about 6-foot-7.  The TV ads that began during the Super Bowl and continued during the Olympics were not paid for by the Dunleavy campaign, but by the shadow campaign.

The shadow campaign does not highlight the background or the financing by Francis, Mike's rich brother. Francis began with a $100,000 contribution on Jan. 26 and added $50,000 on March 2.

The Washington Post reported in 2013 that Francis, during his time at JP Morgan, led an effort to manipulate electric rates in markets in California and the Midwest.  Francis Dunleavy resigned that year and his lawyer said he did nothing that violated the law and he was not charged with any criminal activity. Before his resignation, JPMorgan paid $410 million to settle the case.

Francis joined Bear Sterns in 1982 and became a senior managing partner.  According to Reuters, "he was considered instrumental in building out the bank’s energy business into a 220-person power and natural gas trading desk in Houston before JPMorgan acquired the bank in 2008."

Years after Enron, JPMorgan found ways to game the system with bids selling electricity in California and the Midwest, forcing consumers to pay more with every kilowatt hour.

"The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said the bank’s subsidiary, JPMorgan Ventures Energy Corp., had charged electricity grids in those regions as much as 80 times the prevailing power prices at certain hours of the day through “manipulative bidding strategies” between September 2010 and June 2011," the Post said.

FERC said the bids were developed by a group headed by Francis.

Writing in the New York Times, Gretchen Morgenson said that the Federal Reserve allowed JPMorgan to expand beyond banking and deal in electricity in 2010.  "Investigators for the commission found that from September 2010 to November 2012, bank officials engaged in a dozen electricity bidding strategies aimed at wringing profits from the high-cost and inefficient power plants it controlled," Morgenson wrote.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, columnist Michael HIltzik complained about the $410 million settlement and how JPMorgan did not admit or deny wrongdoing.

"What's worse is that even though FERC identified four JPMorgan employees as the perpetrators of the manipulation — Andrew Kittell and John Bartholomew of the bank's Houston-based Principal Investments unit, their supervisor Francis Dunleavy, and his supervisor Blythe Masters, Morgan's commodities mastermind — there's no indication that these individuals will suffer any consequences for this rip-off," Hiltzik wrote.

"Morgan's traders pitilessly exploited loopholes in the automatic system. They would alternate high bids and low bids in a way they knew would result in their getting paid at the highest-bid rate. Sometimes they received $999 per megawatt-hour when the market price was $12," he said.

Since Mike Dunleavy wants to be governor and says he wants to stand tall, he needs to speak out about his brother's role in the shadow Dunleavy campaign and his involvement in the manipulation of energy markets in the Lower 48.

Dermot Cole4 Comments