Lisa Murkowski proved this past week that she has learned nothing from the message of the midterm elections. The main issues that drove people to the polls and created a Republican landslide were the beliefs that our nation is on the wrong track and that government spending has gotten completely out of control.
Within weeks of the election, Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich voted to retain the wasteful and corrupting earmarks they cherish. The new House majority, and even President Obama, have committed to banning earmarks.
No one should be surprised that Mrs. Murkowski is willing to make this last charge of the big spenders (no matter how futile) because she does have a lot of special interests to pay off, none more so than the Alaska Native Regional Corporations. These multibillion-dollar corporations, formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and repeatedly protected from shareholder oversight by legislation shepherded by the Murkowski-Stevens-Young delegation, poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the tiny Alaska media market in a slimy, no-holds-barred effort to keep Mrs. Murkowski in office.
Why? To guarantee these corporations’ continued protection from federal and shareholder oversight and to maintain the exceptionally wasteful no-bid federal contracts awarded to their subsidiaries.
How did they do it? Through the creation of a “superPAC” named Alaskans Standing Together (AST) and designed to help Mrs. Murkowski defeat not only me, the Republican nominee, but more surprisingly, Scott McAdams, the Democratic nominee. Historically, Alaskan Natives are reliable Democratic voters. This time, however, the regional corporations made a concerted effort to persuade Alaskan Natives to vote for the candidate who could best increase the flow of federal dollars to Alaska.
But I refused to lie to the Alaskan people. Recognizing the impossibility of increasing federal expenditures in the face of an already catastrophic debt load, I signed a no-earmarks pledge and promised to cut spending. I urged a vigorous fight to open the state’s rich resources to revitalize rural Alaska. But the regional corporations apparently thought federal largesse was a better option than self-sufficiency. The immorality of spending our children’s and grandchildren’s money seemingly was irrelevant to them.
Local media reported the decision to support Lisa Murkowski going down in this manner: A group of leaders from the regional corporations and native organizations invited Mrs. Murkowski to a meeting. They told her, “We really need you to run, we really want you to run.” They expressed their appreciation for the past support she had given them. Mrs. Murkowski responded that she appreciated their words but warned that a run as a write-in candidate is “a very heavy lift.” She made it clear that it was not enough for those “CEOs to stand up and give me your support. I would need to know that it goes out into every village.”
That’s exactly what happened. AST hit the airways with hundreds of thousands of dollars in attack ads, making numerous false allegations regarding my positions and background. Within a mere three weeks, AST spent $1.2 million, inundating the Alaska market. It also hired dozens of workers to travel to the villages to teach people how to vote for Lisa Murkowski. They even painted vans with AST’s logo to bus people to the polls.
To recognize how unseemly this is, you need to know a little about Alaska Native 8(a) corporations. They are no-bid federal contractors. They get billions in federal taxpayer dollars to undertake building and other projects not just throughout the state of Alaska, but across the country and overseas. These corporations typically partner with or subcontract to nonnative entities that do the work while the native corporations pocket significant profits that the market could never justify.
I argued during the campaign that this 8(a) program demanded reform, in large part because it was ripping off the American taxpayer. But I also argued that while the native corporations made dizzying profits using their “disadvantaged” status to gain federal work, in practice they did very little to lift the lives of most Alaskan Natives. While the desperate poverty of many villages has remained unchanged over the past 30 years, the corporations have sprouted a crop of shiny new office buildings in Anchorage. And while unemployment in native villages continues to be unimaginable, white corporate officers of many of these corporations profit handsomely.
Reform and cutting wasteful government spending threatened these federally enabled fiefdoms, so they sought out their candidate and did all they could to put her into office. There is something odious to the American political experiment in having corporations dependent upon taxpayer money for their very existence turn around and use that money to hire workers to teach people how to vote for one candidate over another. Yet that is precisely what happened in Alaska. Scores of materials went out to the native villages - wristbands and campaign literature - and hired workers went door-to-door teaching people how to write Lisa Murkowski’s name on the ballot.
The native population apparently got the message. Supermajorities of numerous villages that had gone strongly Democratic in previous elections voted for Mrs. Murkowski last month.
One native leader proudly boasted on Election Day that his people had made history. If Mrs. Murkowski survives the inevitable recount of ballots(ballots that were transported and “secured” by an Alaska Native corporation), native leaders have said there will be no quid pro quo expected from their efforts - central to Mrs. Murkowski’s attempt to retain her office.
Mrs. Murkowski, I’m sure, will publicly claim the same, but her recent vote and statement opposing the earmark ban indicate she still wants to direct money within Alaska to her pet projects. Will anyone be shocked to find her attempting to target funds benefiting native corporations, as in times past?
Joe Miller was the winner of the 2010 Republican Senate primary in Alaska.