At Color Art Printing in Anchorage, Deanna Teders is willing to slow down. Two weeks before Election Day, this is peak campaign mailer season, and as a unionized printer, color art is particularly popular with Democratic candidates.
“We’re moving. We’re working double shifts, whether it’s in our digital department or offset (printing) or printing,” said Deanna Teders, who owns the company with her husband Richard.
“My husband … he cuts paper all day, cuts it for the press, and after it’s printed you have to cut it to take it to the post office. So yeah, we’ve moved, all of us,” she said.
The spate of campaign-related mailers that hit Alaskans’ mailboxes last week, this week and next week is meant to influence voters, but it also shows trends in this year’s races.
Because the cost of campaign mail is high compared to other forms of advertising, third parties turn their attention to a relative handful of races to illustrate which competitions are likely to be close and therefore important to control of the House and Senate.
Experts say the number of mailers has fallen this year compared to 2020 as candidates switch to cheaper digital ads, but Teders said she doesn’t think business at her store has declined much since this year.
“You have a lot of things going on,” she said. “You have a governor’s race to a Senate race, you have Congress, you have all the House and Senate races. It’s crazy. There’s a lot of everything at once,” she said.
State and federal candidates must submit periodic reports to the Alaska Public Offices Commission and the Federal Elections Commission, respectively, detailing their expenses, including their mailing expenses.
Biggest buck in US Senate race
The biggest donor to this year’s election so far has been the Senate Leadership Fund, a group linked to US Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican minority leader.
After pledged to spend more than $7 million in support of Lisa Murkowski’s re-election campaign, the group reduced its spending in Alaska to about $5 million after Murkowski had a stronger-than-expected performance in the Aug. 16 primary would have.
That money was spent on more than just mailed ads, but whatever the format, the Senate Leadership Fund ads slammed Murkowski’s main Republican opponent, Kelly Tshibaka.
As noted by the Anchorage Daily News, this criticism has prompted Murkowski to send a positive message through her advertising, including her email messages. The Senate Leadership Fund’s actions also inspired the Alaska Republican Party to formally reprimand — or reprimand — McConnell for the group’s actions. The party previously voted to support Tshibaka and censure Murkowski.
Third-party groups like the Senate Leadership Fund cannot coordinate with official campaigns, but have fewer restrictions on the amount of money they can raise or spend.
An outside group called Alaskans for LISA is the largest organization dedicated solely to one race in Alaska this year and has reported spending of about $4.1 million through September 30.
Jim Lottsfeldt, a policy advisor working for the group, said national organizations, regardless of race, are the largest buyers of information through the mail, largely because of cost. He estimates it costs between 70 cents and $1 per item per voter.
“These organizations schedule an e-mail program, and an e-mail program happens maybe once a week, and then twice (per week) in the last few weeks,” he said.
“In Alaska alone, you spend hundreds of thousands to maybe a million dollars on it,” he said.
In 2014, he spent $11 million coordinating an outside group supporting Mark Begich’s reelection campaign.
“And I bet we spent a million and a half just on mail. Given inflation, I’d probably spend $2.5 million today,” he said.
Gubernatorial candidates also spend on mail
Because of this spending, most campaign mail goes to nationwide races, whether for the US House of Representatives, the US Senate, or the race for governor.
The National Republican Governors Association has committed $3 million to support incumbent Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy’s re-election campaign and this week posted more than $315,000 in mailed advertisements opposing Dunleavy and opposing Democratic nominees Les Gara and the Independent Support candidate Bill Walker. The RGA was the subject of a complaint filed with the state campaign authorities.
Dunleavy’s campaign has also bought mailers criticizing Gara and Walker. A fluorescent pink mailer noted that Gara is “the only pro-choice contestant” in the race, something Gara fought for himself.
Gara’s most recent campaign proposal shows over $120,000 in mail expenses, including some provided by the Alaska Democratic Party, while Walker’s most recent campaign proposal shows significantly less spend on mailed campaign advertisements. Differences in the language used in the reports make accurate comparisons difficult, and the campaigns are due to file another disclosure next week.
Lottsfeldt said that traditionally most advertising money is spent on television, which is a candidate’s main message.
“We’ve found that digital is just as strong, but it’s still TV that gets the most attention. Most of us treat Mail – I wouldn’t say as an afterthought – but it’s something that serves to support TV rather than lead with Mail,” he said.
Kim Hays of the union-backed Putting Alaskans First Committee said that postal expenses are getting smaller and smaller each year, but many Alaskans still rely on the Post.
“We know people are still looking for that post,” she said, “and I think a lot of people think the more mail you get, the closer the races get, and maybe that inspires them to get out (and vote, too). ). So I think mail is still a tactic and still a tool in the toolbox that we use,” she said.
Cost Limits for Legislative Mailers
In state legislative races, the expense of mailing materials encourages candidates to limit their mailings. Political operations typically target mailers to addresses in the publicly available government voter database and may then use a third-party database to further restrict their mailings by political belief.
Although candidates now have access to more money because individual donation limits have been removed, financial disclosures show few mailings from individual candidates.
“Really, I think you’re seeing fewer mailings with local candidates than ever before,” said Cherie Curry of WINfluence Strategies, a firm advising some legislative candidates this year.
“They’re going digital,” she said.
This includes video ads on streaming services like YouTube, Hulu, and Apple TV, as well as static ads on Facebook.
Campaign disclosures show third-party groups focusing campaign mailers on state Senate races in Eagle River, South Anchorage, West Anchorage and downtown Fairbanks.
At the State House, races in downtown Fairbanks and Anchorage attract the attention of third party groups. Three Anchorage races of particular note: the Midtown race between Republican Kathy Henslee and Democrat Andy Josephson; the East Anchorage race between Democrat Donna Mears and Republican Forrest Wolfe; and the other race in East Anchorage between Democrat Ted Eischeid and Republican Stanley Wright.
The National Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is spending $13,000 on Mailer to oppose Republicans in those counties and a handful of others, while Alaska Policy Partners, a conservative group, is spending $110,000 on ads, including Mailer, to to support Republicans in these and other areas.
Putting Alaskans First Committee is spending more than $50,000 to support the re-election of Sens. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, and Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks. It also spends extra money on other races.
Hays said her group tried to get her ads out earlier this year. Heading into the final week before the election, people will be blown away. The final mailers, experts say, will be out the door by the end of this week and arriving next week.
“They get inundated,” she said, “with phone calls and people knocking on their door. So we tried to get ours out earlier.”
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