Oil money in Alaska lines up for McGavick
Seattle Times Washington bureau
WASHINGTON — Arctic oil-drilling supporters are rallying behind Republican Senate candidate Mike McGavick of Seattle for a fundraiser organized by Alaska's most powerful politicians.
The April 13 event in Anchorage is being hosted by Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski, and Alaska's lone Congressman Don Young, all Republicans.
It could raise as much as $500,000 for McGavick, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell in this fall's election.
The Alaska politicians are the stars, but the other 23 special patrons listed on the invitation are a who's who in Alaska politics and commerce, particularly in the energy industry.
Many of them have been vocal and financial supporters of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling — an issue Stevens has pushed in the Senate for almost 30 years.
Cantwell has led Senate Democrats against ANWR drilling, clashing with the powerful Alaska senator.
An attempt to approve ANWR drilling failed in Congress last Christmas but recently was revived by Stevens in the Senate.
McGavick has raised about $1.2 million from individual donors, 22 percent of whom are from out of state, according to Open Secrets, a campaign-finance database.
Cantwell's out-of-state contributors account for 58 percent of the $8 million she has raised in individual donations, Open Secrets reports.
McGavick has said he favors ANWR drilling, so it's natural that the energy industry would support him, said former Rep. Al Swift, a Democrat who represented the 2nd Congressional District, which includes Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties.
"But this could be a little PR problem for him," Swift said, because some people might see it as Alaska's congressional delegation jumping into the Washington race.
"Is Stevens sticking it to Maria? Well, could be," Swift laughed.
McGavick disagreed, saying the Alaska reception shows that he will be a uniter in the Senate.
"The states of Washington and Alaska have deep and long ties, and the fact that they see me as a candidate who understands those ties and can work with them better is a very favorable statement," he said.
The reception, he added, will be "just one night in a long campaign."
The event will be held at the home of former Alaska Gov. Bill Sheffield, a conservative Democrat. Participants are asked to give $500 to $4,200 per person to McGavick's campaign.
Among the fundraising sponsors are several names who have made the list of Top 25 Most Powerful Alaskans published by the Alaska Journal of Commerce.
They also include five current or former board members of Arctic Power, a lobby for ANWR drilling that is supported by Alaska state money. Last week Alaska's state House approved $750,000 for the organization.
Arctic Power's leaders include Bill Allen, owner of VECO, a giant Alaskan construction company that stands to gain from opening ANWR. His firm, and others on the patron list, gave money to another organization — Alaska to America Energy Initiative — that also lobbies for ANWR drilling, according to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan group that advocates for campaign reform.
Allen and his firm contributed heavily in 2005 to Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Resources Committee, according to news reports. Pombo was the key congressman pushing ANWR drilling in the House.
Stevens' brother-in-law, Bill Bittner, also is among the fundraising patrons. His firm — Birch, Horton, Bittner and Cherot — represents Alaska's state Legislature in D.C. on numerous issues, including oil and natural gas.
Several sponsors have connections to Cook Inlet Region, an Alaska native-owned corporation that supports ANWR drilling. And one is a trustee of Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, a $34 billion trust for state residents based largely on oil revenues.
One of the few Washingtonians on the list, Jack McRae, was once chief of staff for former Sen. Slade Gorton. Gorton lost his Senate seat in 2000 to Cantwell.
Still, ANWR is not the focus of the fundraiser, McGavick said.
"It's about the poisonous relationship that is getting in the way of our two states working together ... ," he said. "Gov. Sheffield is not the first nor last Democrat who will be involved in my campaign."
Cantwell's campaign manager, Mark Butler, was critical of the fundraiser's guest list.
"We knew big insurance was subsidizing the McGavick campaign, now we know that big oil is, too," he said in a statement.
Seattle Times news researcher Gene Balk contributed to this story.
Alicia Mundy: 202-662-7457 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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