Murkowski Takes the Fight To Knowles

Posted October 20, 2004 at 6:37pm

After taking it on the chin from Republican and Democratic opponents for months, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is finally taking the fight to her chief rival, former Gov. Tony Knowles (D), in this tight Senate race’s waning days.

Murkowski’s campaign has filed two complaints against Knowles with the Federal Election Commission in the past three days and is trying to interest voters in a failed public-private venture from Knowles’ gubernatorial days that it says he propped up simply for political gain.

Knowles’ spokesman call the tactics a sign of Murkowski’s desperation.

Up until now Murkowski has had difficulty shifting to offense, as she has been plagued by other Republicans’ problems and has been the subject of numerous FEC complaints. For example, Murkowski has been dogged from the beginning by charges of nepotism after her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski (R), appointed her to finish his Senate term when he became governor in late 2002. Since then his popularity has plummeted and his decisions — including controversial appointments, one of which resulted in the Alaska Republican Party chairman paying the largest fine for ethics violations in the state’s history — led two men to challenge her in the August primary.

Sen. Murkowski has tried attacking Knowles’ record and attempted to tie him to national Democrats who are unpopular in Alaska, but independent polls have stubbornly shown Knowles with a slight lead.

Now, though she continues to chide him for being a Democrat who will join the “wrong side” if sent to Washington, Murkowski has opened a second front on Knowles.

The first FEC complaint, lodged Monday, accuses Knowles of illegally coordinating with an ostensibly independent group, the New Democrat Network, and accepting improper donations from the group.

The second, dated Tuesday, is along the same lines, claiming Knowles has accepted illegal contributions and improperly coordinated with the Alaska Democratic Party on mailings.

“Clearly the Knowles campaign has willfully not been complying with the law for months,” Murkowski spokesman Elliott Bundy said. “These two examples are clear violations of FEC law and I think it is a clear disservice to Alaskans that he would not mandate that his campaign behave legally.”

The crux of the first argument is that NDN is not truly separate from Knowles’ campaign because both entities use the same media buyer to place their ads.

Bundy said Murkowski has asked the FEC to issue an immediate injunction because it is a cut-and-dried violation of campaign law for a candidate to use the same media buyer as a group doing an independent expenditure on its behalf.

Under the circumstances, NDN’s ads should be considered in-kind contributions, in which case they would exceed the limits for such contributions.

Matt McKenna, a spokesman for Knowles, said Murkowski is misinterpreting the law.

“For somebody who was appointed to federal office, she should know more about federal law,” McKenna said. “The ads [in question] are not independent expenditures because they do not name any specific candidate.”

Bundy countered that just mentioning a party with a candidate on the Nov. 2 ballot this close to the election is considered an independent expenditure by the FEC.

McKenna shot back that the ads are issue ads and that to be considered independent expenditures at any stage of the race, they would still have to expressly advocate for or against someone’s election.

As for the complaint involving the Democratic Party, Murkowski’s lawyer maintains the law was broken because no volunteers were apparently used to generate or process the mailings. If there is no disclaimer and volunteers were not used, the mailings have to be considered a coordinated expenditure, the complaint states, adding that because the party has already maxed out its coordinated spending with Knowles, the mailings are illegal. Republican Party mailings are exempt from the coordination limits because volunteer labor is involved and the mailings have the proper disclaimer.

Finally, Bundy says a recent story in the Anchorage Daily News should raise questions about Knowles’ fitness for office.

The story discusses e-mails exchanged by state officials as the publicly-subsidized Alaska Seafood International factory was in deep financial trouble toward the end of Knowles’ administration. Bundy says requests by Knowles’ staff to keep the company running into the next administration was nothing more than a political calculation.