Keep Cannabis Legal group leads pack for campaign spending

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to show that the Kenai Peninsula Republic Women donated to Linda Hutchings’ mayoral campaign in February 2017.

With less than a month to go until the regular election, candidates and groups are racking up campaign spending.

The single biggest spender so far is the Keep Cannabis Legal campaign group, primarily composed of cannabis business stakeholders who are coordinating the effort to defeat Proposition 1 on the Oct. 3 ballot. Proposition 1 would make commercial cannabis operations illegal outside the boundaries of the incorporated cities in the borough.

As of Sept. 5, the group had spent approximately $38,405 according to campaign disclosure documents filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Donors have put about $45,548 into the campaign’s coffers, primarily in donations from individuals, according to the filing.

The Kenai Peninsula Republican Women, a local political support group, has spent approximately $15,094 since April on various campaign activities, including auctions and convention fees. Donations and dues support the group, which has brought in about $13,932, all of which were donations of in-kind items.

Neither group, however, has endorsed candidates in the races for borough mayor or the borough assembly. The ENSTAR Employees PAC, which donated $300 to candidate Charlie Pierce’s campaign in April, and the Kenai Peninsula Republican Women donated $500 to Linda Hutchings’ campaign in December 2016, according to a January APOC filing.

The Kenai Peninsula Republican Women is not likely to formally endorse a campaign, said club president Jill Schaefer. The club’s board met and decided not to endorse candidates, largely because there are differing opinions within the club and because many of the members are connected to candidates one way or another.

“I just didn’t want any of our members who pay dues to feel uncomfortable,” she said. “It’s a nonpartisan race, but all three candidates are conservative.”

Hutchings has long been active with the Kenai Peninsula Republican Women, but the club won’t formally endorse her, Schaefer said. They don’t plan to endorse assembly candidates either, she said.

Nor does the Keep Cannabis Legal campaign plan to endorse a mayoral candidate, said campaign manager Amy Jackman. So far, none of the candidates have openly said they opposed Proposition 1, though Hutchings said at a forum hosted by the joint Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce that she supported a legal, regulated market, Jackman said. One candidate for District 1 on the assembly, Dan Castimore, wrote in his candidate’s statement that he opposed Proposition 1, she said.

The group, which is funded primarily by individual donations, may not agree on candidates either, so Jackman said she wasn’t sure if the group wanted to formally endorse any of them. When the group hosts forums or public events, as it has been doing throughout the borough in the past few months, she films the candidates speaking and posts its on the group’s Facebook page.

“Really, I am trying to facilitate the democratic process,” she said. “While I want (the campaign to ) ‘Vote Yes’ to fail, to me, it really is all about education. I think that if people are interested in learning the facts and understanding where people stand and what the science is and some of the fears surrounding cannabis, they really take the time to look at those things, it’s going to be really hard to come to any different conclusion than it should be legalized. I just want people to have that information.”

So far, Hutchings, Pierce and mayoral candidate Dale Bagley have funded their campaigns almost entirely with individual donations, spending primarily on radio and print advertising and signage. Pierce leads the group for spending with about $23,500 spent as of Sept. 4, followed by Hutchings with approximately $19,900 spent and Bagley with approximately $17,400 spent as of Sept. 1, according to Alaska Public Offices Commission filings.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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