In addition to becoming involved in key senate elections, Eyler said the US Chamber is actively lobbying on fiscal, energy, and immigration policy. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

In addition to becoming involved in key senate elections, Eyler said the US Chamber is actively lobbying on fiscal, energy, and immigration policy. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

The US Chamber of Commerce has thrown its weight behind the effort to unseat Alaska Sen. Mark Begich in this fall’s election.

Chris Eyler, the executive director of the Northwest Region of the US Chamber of Commerce, says the process of endorsing candidates attempts to be objective, and not every local chamber agrees with the national organization’s picks.

He spoke about election-year politics with the Sitka Chamber of Commerce this week (6-25-14). KCAW’s Robert Woolsey attended and filed this report.


The political ad running on TV stations across Alaska blasts Begich on several issues. Maybe you’ve seen it:

(Ad audio) Obamacare. Mark Begich sided with Washington, putting the bureaucrats in control. EPA regulations that could hurt the Alaska economy and cost jobs, Begich sided with Washington — again.

The ad caught the attention of one regular Sitka Chamber attendee, who wanted to learn more about it when Chris Eyler opened the floor to questions.

Chamber audience – If you quick enough at who sponsors it, it says US Chamber of Commerce. How does that support come about?
Eyler – We look at every single senate race. From our point of view, yes, Sen. Murkowski and Sen. Begich are your senators. They represent you in DC. But they are also making decisions that impact the entire country. So from that point of view, we look at it as our responsibility to look at each race and make a decision about getting involved.

Eyler told the Sitka Chamber that the national organization’s main function was to lobby congress and the president on policy issues important to business, and that not every statewide or local chamber was on board when it came to backing candidates. He said the candidates were vetted by a questionnaire, interviews, and other research that the US Chamber’s board uses to make a recommendation or not.

In the case of the Alaska Senate race, they’re going with…

(Ad audio) Dan Sullivan puts Alaska first. He has a track record of taking on Washington in the big fights over Obamacare and the out-of-control EPA. That’s Dan Sullivan.

That’s former Attorney General Dan Sullivan, and not Anchorage mayor Dan Sullivan, who’s running for Lt. Governor.

Eyler said there are five senate races the US Chamber considers “toss-ups” this fall, Alaska’s among them. Those five seats, plus two that the Chamber considers “wild cards,” would be enough to give Republicans a majority in the United States Senate, which is currently held by Democrats. Their spending — despite the vetting process — heavily favors Republicans. According to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, the US Chamber has spent just over $14-million in the current election cycle — with $12-million going to support Republicans.

Although the US Chamber has spent some money — around $1-million — opposing some Republicans, it has spent nothing in support of Democrats.

Even though Begich is an incumbent, Eyler said the Alaska Democrat did not pass muster on enough chamber issues to win an endorsement.

“With incumbents, we also have a legislative scorecard. We score votes in the senate, then have a scorecard based on those votes. If a member of the senate doesn’t score above 70-percent, they don’t receive our support. In the case of Sen. Begich, on our most recent scorecard he got 50.”

When the US Chamber released the ad in April of this year, the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce — where Begich served as mayor for many years — immediately distanced itself. In a statement, Anchorage Chamber president Andrew Halcro wrote, “these ads… have no affiliation with the Anchorage Chamber.”

Alaska State Chamber president Rachael Petro told the Alaska Public Radio Network at the time, “We just have no opinion on this topic and we have nothing to do with those ads.”

Sitka Chamber president Ptarmica McConnell said her board receives questions like this often, especially when the US Chamber visits. “We don’t endorse candidates,” she said. “Even though we’re members of the US Chamber, we’re our own Chamber.”