Al Gross, an orthopedic surgeon who works for US House in Alaska as a freelancer, owns a rental property in California and part of an office building in Juneau.
One of his main rivals, Republican Nick Begich, has six figures in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and litecoin, as well as a stake of at least $1 million in a software company he owns. founded and now has more than 100 employees and offices in three countries.
Chris Constant, one of the Democrats in the race, is still paying off student loans.
Recently filed financial disclosures reveal huge wealth disparities shaping the special election between Alaska’s 48 single-seat candidates.
The documents, which federal law required of applicants this month, offer insight into each person’s assets and business interests. They also point to the benefits that personal wealth can bring to a congressional campaign.
Begich, who has reported assets worth at least $10.8 million and up to $46 million, has loaned his own campaign $650,000, which is more than half of the money he has raised so far.
Gross, meanwhile, spent $730,000 of his own money on his unsuccessful 2020 U.S. Senate bid — a campaign that laid the groundwork for his run on short notice this year. He declared assets, some held jointly with his wife, of at least $8.7 million and no more than $23 million.
The campaign of a third candidate, former Republican Governor Sarah Palin, on Tuesday provided a copy of a report it said had been filed with the Clerk of the United States House, although the document was not has not yet been published in the Registrar’s database.
Palin said assets worth at least $950,000 and no more than $2.4 million, much of it tied to a Wells Fargo savings account that holds between $500,000 and $1 million. dollars.
The amounts Begich and Gross each disclosed for their campaigns represent about 10 years of income for the median Alaskan household.
Constant spent just $400 on his own campaign and reported assets valued at less than $100,000.
Wealthy candidates enjoy another advantage beyond the ability to spend freely on their campaigns, said Michael Beckel, research director for Washington, D.C.-based Issue One, a nonpartisan advocacy group that seeks to limit the role of money in politics.
They also tend to have wealthier networks of friends, relatives and business contacts who are more likely to donate large sums to their campaign, Beckel said.
“If you’re not around wealthy donors, it’s very difficult to break into those circles,” Beckel said. “The odds are stacked against candidates of modest means trying to run for office.”
A modest income as a selling point
Half a dozen candidates in the race declared more than $1 million in assets in their financial statements.
Among them is Jeff Lowenfels, a natural resources lawyer and gardening writer, who said he owns at least $500,000 worth of Apple stock.
Another is Tara Sweeney, the Alaska Native leader, who announced a stake of at least $500,000 in a new Arctic-focused climate venture, Seven Glaciers, which is working on selling carbon offsets.
Gregg Brelsford, a freelancer who previously worked as a Bristol Bay Borough manager, also reported over $1 million in assets, as did Anchorage businesswoman Sherry Mettler.
Those fortunes exceed the wealth that U.S. Representative Don Young, whom candidates are vying to replace, has amassed over his half-century in Congress. His last disclosure, filed in 2021 before his sudden death in March, listed assets valued at as little as $580,000.
While there are 48 candidates vying for the June 11 special primary, the House Clerk’s Office had released disclosures on just 12 on Tuesday. The campaigns that filed the documents had different interpretations of the rules dictating when the disclosures were due, although the latest of those deadlines was Monday.
Candidates are only required to file the documents if they raise or spend more than $5,000 on their campaigns, and many of those vying for the seat formerly held by Young are running low-key campaigns.
The rules also do not require applicants to list their homes as assets unless they generate rental income. And the value of other assets — stocks and bonds, business interests, cryptocurrency — are reported in ranges from $1,001 to $15,000, rather than as exact amounts.
While some candidates’ asset lists exceed 10 pages, Constant’s disclosure lists only two entries — his retirement accounts, each worth between $15,000 and $50,000.
He reported about $150,000 in earned income in 2021, from his jobs as an Anchorage Assemblyman and at the nonprofit Akeela Social Services, as well as real estate sales.
Constant said his fundraising efforts for the campaign, which have raised around $100,000 so far, have been successful, though that total is less than the $370,000 Begich has raised from others. for his own candidacy at home.
Nonetheless, Constant presents his relative lack of personal wealth as a selling point.
“The benefit is, in practice, I understand what it’s like to make a living, which is what most Alaskans go through,” Constant said. He added: “I am a worker. I don’t come from wealth.
Mary Peltola, another Democratic primary candidate, reported less than $200,000 in assets and $89,000 in income last year from her work leading a tribal fisheries management group in her area. native to southwestern Alaska.
Peltola said she was taking unpaid leave from the position and, as she considered launching her campaign, had to consider whether she would be able to pay off her mortgage, utility bill and car loan.
Like Constant, Peltola said her life experience makes her better suited to writing policies that will benefit Alaska workers.
“Our electoral system is really designed for those seats to be sought by people who have financial security and who are mostly retired,” Peltola said. “I think the majority of Alaskans, myself included, live out their paycheck three days before the paycheck.”
Wealth as its own asset
The wealthiest candidates in the race, meanwhile, have access to personal assets beyond the reach of the vast majority of Alaskans.
Gross, the orthopedic surgeon, did not respond to interview requests made as part of his campaign.
Begich, one of the running Republicans and a multi-millionaire, dismissed the idea that his money might leave him out of touch with potential voters.
He said his family “struggled” when he was growing up, and at one point, Begich said, he had over $100,000 in student loans, since paid off.
“I can definitely relate to the struggle that a lot of Alaskans are having right now,” he said in a phone interview.
One of the biggest chunks of Begich’s wealth — between $5 million and $25 million — is invested in his 69% stake in FarShore Partners, the software company he founded around 2006.
It now has 150 employees and has offices in Anchorage, Chicago, Croatia and India. And counts among its customers Encyclopedia Britannica, Valspar Corp. and Northwestern University, which pays Farshore to build software for customers and employees.
Begich also has a 42% stake in another firm, Dashfire Management, which advises startups. He pointed to other assets related to the company that owns the Aviator Hotel in downtown Anchorage, a company that operates a grocery store in the central town of Utqiagvik on the North Slope, several investment funds, a family publishing house and a company that owns land inside Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
In the interview, Begich said his investment and business experience would give him an important perspective in Congress.
“We hear a lot about the diversification of the Alaskan economy. And the diversification of the economy is going to come from creating businesses,” Begich said. “It’s something I’ve spent my entire career doing.”
Begich also argues that his wealth itself — not just his experience accumulating it — would come in handy if elected. His strengths, he said, insulate him from reliance on special interests or particular groups of supporters, and ensure that he will have no trouble maintaining his homes in Alaska and Washington.
He said Young, the former congressman, once described how dozens of Representatives sleep in their offices at the United States Capitol.
“It’s emblematic of a problem that is unsustainable: it forces the member in a way that makes it difficult for them to do a great job, if they’re worried about their personal finances,” Begich said. “I’ve worked hard, but I’ve also been lucky in some of my investing and business ventures that I can run without worrying so much.”
Palin’s campaign did not make her available for an interview about her disclosure, although she did share the copy of the four-page document.
The disclosure does not appear to indicate a substantial increase in wealth since the last time Palin was required to declare her assets, when she ran for vice president in 2008. But it does show the former governor has multiple sources. significant income.
These include his appearances on the Cameo website, which allows celebrities to sell personalized videos to clients.
Palin, whose account has a five-star rating from 465 reviews, charges $199 for “personal use” videos and $1,000 or more for businesses. She reported $211,500 in revenue from Cameo last year and $44,500 so far in 2022.
“Website advertising” paid Palin $88,600 last year and $56,500 so far this year, according to her report.
She raised $40,000 for speaking at a fundraiser last year for A Woman’s Haven, a crisis pregnancy center in San Antonio that tries to dissuade women from having abortions.
Conservative group Club for Growth paid Palin $10,000 last year, which she says was for taking part in a bus tour aimed at boosting Republican candidates in the late 2020 US Senate election in Georgia. .
And a London-based bank, Coutts, paid her $6,700 last year for a “guest appearance”.
Daily News reporter Iris Samuels contributed to this story.