Mar. 10—Anchorage mayoral candidate Mike Robbins is a longtime local businessman.
Robbins, who is also Republican House District 26 chairman, says it is precisely his business background that makes him the best choice for mayor. His campaign platform includes messaging that he is the singular candidate with any real business experience.
"I've worked with hundreds and hundreds of different kinds of businesses over the years, and so that gives me a unique perspective, having run my own business and having made a payroll and having basically started from nothing and built it to something — it's also given me a perspective in the way that I look at life," he said during an interview with the Daily News last month.
But some of Robbins' opponents are drawing attention to his history of lawsuits, debt and some campaign expenditures as reasons that voters should be leery of casting their ballot for the businessman in the crowded nonpartisan race.
During a debate between three conservative-leaning candidates held by the Alaska Young Republicans in late February, one of Robbins' opponents challenged his campaign's narrative.
Candidate Bill Evans, an attorney and former Assembly member who has described himself as a fiscal conservative, needled Robbins over his involvement in past lawsuits
"I am also a business owner — I don't know where you get this idea that there's no other business owners," Evans said. "I own a law firm, I signed the front side of a (pay)check and I've never been sued about it."
"All I can say is that maybe if you've never been sued, you've never been in business, Bill," Robbins responded.
Currently, Robbins owns The Robbins Agency, a marketing and advertising company, and a text marketing firm, he said. He previously managed several local radio stations, including Movin 105.7 FM and KOAN, a conservative talk radio station, and is also a partner in businesses with his wife, who owns a modeling and talent agency.
Robbins, in an email to the Daily News, describes himself as a "people person" who began learning business at age 17 and who didn't attend a prestigious university like some of his opponents.
"It took me late teens into my mid-20s to figure out the school-of-hard-knocks was the best academic training I could use," he said in an emailed statement.
He sees his history navigating lawsuits and even his struggle with debt to the IRS as experience that could help him guide the city out of its current economic descent.
Robbins' past business dealings include a brief foray as president and director of Alaska company Romanian American Matrimonial Introduction Services, which was formed in 2001, until it dissolved in 2003, according to state records. Robbins said the short-lived company was a matchmaking service he created as an entrepreneur, when other online matchmaking services like Match.com and eHarmony were becoming popular.
Alaska court and state records do show Robbins has a history of debt and lawsuits.
Robbins over the years has been the majority owner of two local companies dedicated to radio and media. Tati Broadcasting was formed in 2004 and Robbins later formed Alaska Integrated Media in 2010.
Records filed with the state show that between 2010 and 2018, the IRS placed at least 14 liens on Robbins' businesses for a total of at least $744,000 in unpaid federal taxes.
The IRS has released many of those liens in June of 2019, according to records filed online with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Recorder's Office, which means the debt for those liens has been satisfied. Still, no releases have been filed online for six of the liens, which were issued for about $189,000 in unpaid federal taxes.
Robbins, in an emailed statement, said his remaining actual debt to the IRS is less than $35,000 and "is being satisfied as per the payment plan agreed to." A debt to the IRS is included in Robbins' financial disclosure filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
Robbins in the statement said that the Great Recession hit the radio industry in 2008 and that its effects lasted into 2011.
"Things were incredibly difficult, especially for radio stations. Income in the industry plummeted, many stations locally laid off employees and even declared bankruptcy and reduced wages," Robbins said.
Instead, he kept employees, did not declare bankruptcy and got behind on taxes, he said.
In a campaign video, Robbins addresses his debt with the IRS and describes his trajectory from a teen experimenting with drugs and alcohol to a businessman who faced difficult financial choices.
Both of Robbins' radio companies have been dissolved, Tati in 2013 and Alaska Integrated Media in 2020, as Robbins exited the radio industry last year ahead of his run for mayor.
He sold the stations in June or July of 2019 after receiving an unsolicited offer, Robbins said in his email. Two stations sold for about $1.25 million, according to online reports from RadioInsight and InsideRadio, news sites focused on the radio industry. Records show that at about the same time, Robbins paid off most of his debt to the IRS.
During Robbins' ownership, both companies were embroiled in multiple lawsuits. Records show that some resulted Robbins' companies paying out tens of thousands to other companies.
One lawsuit filed in 2013 by Nielsen Audio claims that Robbins, the majority shareholder of both companies, and his business partner attempted to defraud First National Bank of Alaska, the IRS and Nielsen, an out-of-state company that measures radio audiences.
The lawsuit claims that Robbins and his business partner formed Alaska Integrated Media in order to transfer Tati's assets "out of the reach of creditors of Tati, including but not limited to FNBA and the IRS."
The lawsuit claims all income and assets were stripped from Tati and sold to AIM for just $200, though Tati had purchased radio station assets worth $1.5 million just a few years before.
In the emailed statement Robbins said that "there was no fraudulent transfer of any assets" and that the "assertions in the suit are not statements of fact just assertions; this is evidenced by the fact that there were no other lawsuits, nor was anyone else a party to the action."
Robbins' company agreed to a confession of judgment on the case, which means he agreed to pay money and avoid further court proceedings.
A lawyer on the case told the Daily News that Robbins' debt had been paid but declined to comment further.
The lawsuit was an attempt by a large corporation to intimidate a small business, Robbins said.
"In the end this is nothing more than a properly handled dispute between two commercial entities," he said.
Robbins has touted the success of his bid for mayor so far by pointing out the hefty amount of donations he's garnered — the second highest of any candidate as of Feb. 1 year start reports.
Still, his critics are quick to point out that Robbins has donated to his own campaign. Opponents have claimed that Robbins has inflated his donation report with his own money.
Robbins' donations include a $25,556.80 non-monetary donation for radio advertising, according to a report filed with the state. He donated about another $11,000 to his own campaign, the report shows.
"I launched my campaign with my own money to demonstrate I'm vested in the campaign on a personal financial level," he said by email.
The report shows he is also paying his own agency rent for campaign office space. According to a recent campaign disclosure report, he has paid The Robbins Agency a total of $10,627.90 in expenses including rent and advertising.
Other candidates' reports show that they have also donated to their own campaigns, though smaller sums.
Robbins has challenged the claims of his opponents who have suggested that he has improperly used campaign funds, saying that he reported the expenditures to the Alaska Public Offices Commission and that the commission could look into them if it finds anything might be amiss.
"When I sold my radio stations KMVN and KZND, part of the payment was in airtime. I donated some of that airtime on those two stations to my campaign," he wrote, explaining the $25,000 donation. "The Robbins Agency is contracted to place advertising on behalf of the campaign."
There are no federal tax liens filed in online state records against The Robbins Agency.
"I've been working in building businesses since I was 17 years old, and sometimes along the way you make good decisions. Sometimes you make bad decisions," Robbins said at the Young Republicans debate. "But you know what? All you do is you pick yourself up and you work through it. And adversity builds character."