A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Would Miller ‘Destroy’ Alaska’s Economy?


In Alaska, a new group founded and financed by for-profit native corporations falsely charges in an ad that Republican Senate nominee Joe Miller’s proposals "would destroy a third of Alaska’s economy" by erasing "our fair share of federal dollars." A conservative, Miller advocates less federal spending — but he hasn’t said he would eliminate it, and that’s what would have to happen to "destroy a third of Alaska’s economy."

The ad also raises the possibility — without providing evidence — that Miller’s election could result in the creation of a state income tax or a draining of Alaska’s permanent fund that provides annual checks to individual state residents.

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Alaskans Standing Together TV Ad: "Erasing Alaska’s Economy"

Announcer: Joe Miller has a plan for Alaska. It erases our fair share of federal dollars. Medicare. Social Security. Unemployment insurance. Joe’s radical ideas would destroy a third of Alaska’s economy and move our state backwards. What’s left if Joe’s plan succeeds? A state income tax? Tapping the permanent fund? Write in Lisa Murkowski and you have to fill in that oval.

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Who Is Behind Alaskans Standing Together?

The ad — "Erasing Alaska’s Economy," which was released Oct. 11 — is the work of Alaskans Standing Together, which was formed to help Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s write-in campaign. Murkowski lost to Miller, a tea party favorite, in the GOP primary, and her only hope of retaining her seat in this three-way race is to get enough voters to submit write-in ballots with her name on it. A recent CNN/Time poll showed the race in a dead heat, although it is hard to accurately poll how well a write-in candidate will do.

Alaskans Standing Together filed statement of organization papers with the Federal Election Commission on Sept. 23, declaring its intention to accept unlimited contributions. Its website says it was started by 11 native regional corporations — which are for-profit companies established by Congress in 1971 to settle aboriginal land claims and help native Alaskans become financially self-sufficient. Native Alaskans were given a financial stake in the corporations.

The group, which FEC records show is spending $595,000 on this ad, has a vested interest in the outcome of the election, because Miller is on record in support of reforming the much-criticized federal program for disadvantaged small businesses that provides billions of dollars in no-bid federal contracts to the native corporations.

What Is ‘Joe’s Plan’?

The ad says, "Joe Miller has a plan for Alaska. It erases our fair share of federal dollars. Medicare. Social Security. Unemployment insurance." There is no explanation of what Miller would do to those three popular programs, so we called Jason Moore, a spokesman for the group, to find out.

In all three cases, Moore failed to adequately support the claim that Miller’s plan "erases" federal funding for Alaska.

On Medicare and Social Security, Moore cited the "government spending" section on Miller’s issues web page that says he "will work to limit Washington to the constitutional powers anticipated by our Founders." Moore then cited a liberal website that carried a blog post with the headline, "Alaska GOP Senate Candidate Joe Miller Suggests Medicare and Social Security Are Unconstitutional." The blog post was a report on Miller’s appearance on CBS’ "Face the Nation" on Aug. 29. But that was a misreading of what Miller said.

Miller didn’t say he wanted to get rid of Social Security and Medicare on "Face the Nation." He said the Social Security trust funds are empty and filled with IOUs and the nation needs to "get the fiscal house in order … so that we can continue to pay those benefits." He also talked about the need to find "a solution so our seniors aren’t left out in the cold." He didn’t specifically address Medicare.

Furthermore, the issues page on Miller’s website cited by Moore contained a letter to seniors from Miller that specifically says, "I will not vote to cut your Medicare or Social Security benefits."

Miller has talked about "transitioning out" of Social Security, as he did in a web interview with ABC’s TopLine. But in both interviews on CBS and ABC, he talked about plans proposed by former President George W. Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., that would give younger workers the option to invest a portion of Social Security payroll taxes in individual retirement accounts. Those plans would create a new retirement savings option — not get rid of Social Security or privatize it.

On unemployment insurance, Moore cited the same TopLine interview as evidence that Miller thinks unemployment benefits are unconstitutional and should be eliminated. But that reads too much into what Miller said. In the interview, Miller was asked whether he supported the legislation moving through Congress at the time to extend unemployment benefits. In his brief response, which was rushed because time was running out, Miller said unemployment benefits are unconstitutional (without explaining why) and that he opposed the legislation extending benefits (without explaining why). In a later, more expansive web interview on ABC’s The Scoop, Miller said he supports the program, but believes the constitution requires that the states — not the federal government — administer it.

Miller, Oct. 4: Look, this is an issue not whether or not Joe is against unemployment compensation. I’m very much for it. But the issue is who administers that program, who should be in charge of that program. It’s a question of state control or federal control.

Assumptions, Not Facts

Moore says it is a "fair assumption" that Miller’s belief in limiting the federal government to its constitutional powers equates to "erasing" all federal funding. And he said that eliminating all federal funding would destroy a third of the state’s economy, citing a study that shows federal spending accounts for 35 percent of Alaska’s economy.

That’s an assumption that goes too far. But the ad doesn’t stop there. It piles on more assumptions.

What would happen if the state lost all that federal revenue? The ad gives this false choice: the creation of a state income tax (which is greeted in the ad with an ear-piercing scream) or the draining of the Alaska Permanent Fund (which provides all Alaska residents with an annual check). Miller has not suggested either option, Moore admits. But he adds, "Where else is there to turn to? It is a logical progression."

It’s not a logical progression. It’s a scare tactic.

There’s no question that Miller supports a smaller role for the federal government and less federal spending. There’s no question, too, that he wants to change how the federal government administers Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance and the Small Business Administration’s disadvantaged business program, among others. He even wants to ban congressional earmarks — which the state’s previous senator, the late Ted Stevens, raised to an art form. Those are all fair game for political debate and worthy of voters’ attention. But to say that Miller would erase all federal spending, destroy a third of the state’s economy and force the creation of a state income tax goes way beyond what the facts support.