Dunleavy shadow campaign shows how rich exert political power

If you go to the "Dunleavy for Alaska" website, a shadow campaign largely funded with $500,000 from Mike Dunleavy's rich brother in Texas and Alaskan Bob Penney, you will see a big pitch for new campaign signs available in blue, green, red and orange.

But if you go to the official Dunleavy campaign website, a low-budget outfit funded with donations limited by law to $500 per person—there is no option for ordering a flashy sign in blue, green, red, orange or any other color. 

The shadow campaign has clearly taken on much of the Dunleavy sign business, allowing the Dunleavy campaign to conserve its money for other things. The fine print on the "Dunleavy Governor" campaign signs says they are not "authorized, paid for or approved by the candidate."

But candidate Mike Dunleavy doesn't disapprove. He approves.

He approves of the $500,000 that his brother and Bob Penney have provided, as it relieves him of the need to generate a big chunk of small donations he would otherwise need to do things like buy signs, pay for TV ads or hire pollsters.

All of this gives the Dunleavy campaign a great boost. Yes, he approves.

The shadow campaign is not allowed to coordinate with the candidate. But that is a paper-thin boundary and  a meaningless one at that.

The slogan of the shadow campaign is "Standing Tall for Alaska." The slogan of the official campaign is "Standing Tall for Alaskans." Some of the same family photos are on both sites.

Mead Treadwell, the other leading GOP candidate for governor in Alaska, is also backed by a shadow campaign group, "Mead Treadwell for Alaska's Future," but it has only collected $7,000, with $5,000 of that from the CEO of Elliott Dredges LLC in Baltimore.

It doesn't take a political genius to fashion the strategy for the Dunleavy shadow campaign. It is the same as the other Dunleavy campaign. The two operations do not have to communicate with each other to tread an identical path and spread the same messages about no taxes, imaginary budget cuts and boosting the Permanent Fund Dividend.

I refer to Dunleavy for Alaska as a shadow campaign, not as an independent expenditure group, to give people an idea of what is going on. 

Several readers have told me they are confused about why it is legal for an organization that has no connection to the candidate to appear to be his official campaign. Only the disclaimer says otherwise.

This is a complicated story that has received scant news coverage or analysis in Alaska. The shadow campaign and the role of Francis Dunleavy in a case involving Lower 48 electric rates deserves discussion.

We have a state law in Alaska that limits contributions to groups like the Dunleavy shadow campaign to $500 per person, matching the legal donation limit to official campaigns. But the law is not enforced.

In 2012, the Alaska Public Offices Commission concluded that this law was unconstitutional because of the U.S. Supreme Court's disastrous 2010 decision in Citizens United. In that 5-4 ruling, the court removed many restrictions on campaign spending related to money that was not handed directly to candidates. (Here is a 2012 analysis on the Wickersham's Conscience blog.)

In Citizen's United, Justice Anthony Kennedy and four colleagues made the astonishing claim that unlimited "independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption, or the appearance of corruption."

"The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy," Kennedy said. "By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech
presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate."

The decision reflects a naive view of communication and ignorance about what it takes to coordinate with a candidate.

There is no danger of corruption or of the appearance of corruption because there is no proof that cash changes hands.

Anyone can start a shadow campaign and put unlimited amounts of money to work buying influence. Just keep the candidate out of the formal process. No matter how much is spent, the activity will never give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. The Supreme Court tells us so.

I have not suggested that Francis Dunleavy, Bob Penney and the others backing the "independent" group have done anything to violate the law. I am suggesting that the law is nonsensical.


Dermot Cole1 Comment