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By Shane Lasley
Mining News 

Bill seeks disclosure for initiatives

Rep. Kyle Johansen proposes initiative finance reform; bulk of Ballot Measure 4 funding came from outside "soft money" group

 

October 26, 2008



Alaska Rep. Kyle Johansen, R- District 1, told attendees at Alaska's Resource Development Council Oct. 2 breakfast that Alaska's initiative process has become a multimillion-dollar industry.

Johansen is working on legislation that would hold individuals and groups in support or opposition to ballot measures to similar financial disclosure standards as those required of elected officials.

Johansen argued that initiative-created law has the same authority as law created by elected officials, and should be held to the same disclosure standards. The purpose of this disclosure would be to help inform Alaskan voters about the individuals and groups who are making state law through the initiative process.

"Currently, ballot groups may accept contributions without limitation," Alaska Public Offices Commission Executive Director Holly R. Hill told Mining News. "This includes corporations, unions, organizations, as well as individuals and organizations from outside Alaska.

"However, candidates for state office may not receive corporate contributions and may receive only limited out-of-state contributions from nonresident individuals."

About 56 percent of the $2.85 million raised to promote Ballot Measure 4 by the Alaskans for Clean Water campaign came from a Virginia-based soft money organization, and seven individuals from outside of Alaska contributed between $2,500 and $50,000 each to the "vote yes on 4" campaign, according to the APOC Web site.

Initiatives target Alaska mining

Alaska's mining industry has become the target of five "citizen initiatives" since Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, warned Alaska in late 2006 that Bob Gillam, owner of McKinley Capital and one of Pebble's staunchest adversaries, planned to bring a mining tax initiative before voters. Ramras is on record opposing the Pebble mine project at which the initiative was aimed.

"Bob Gillam, who is a very unique individual, has a mind to assert a public ballot initiative to tax the industry depending on the industry's posture toward the Pebble mine," Ramras told the Alaska Miners Association. "That is like an ultimatum and something that you might want to consider because it would put together pretty draconian measures that would be pretty punitive to the industry."

Ramras urged the miners to make peace with Gillam.

When asked, Ramras said he thought that the miners did not take his warning seriously, and they were underestimating their adversary.

Though a mining tax initiative has not taken a foothold - Mining News sources suggest that the idea may be back on the table - opponents of Pebble have actively used the initiative process in attempts to create law that would make it extremely difficult (if not impossible) for Pebble and other large-scale hardrock mines to operate in Alaska.

The initiative industry

The most widely known of the five anti-mining proposals floated last year was 07WTR3, or Ballot Measure 4, as it became known before Alaska voters rejected it during the August primary.

One of the sponsors of Ballot Measure 4 was Art Hackney, an Anchorage-based political consultant. Hackney not only sponsored the initiative, but his firm, Hackney & Hackney, Inc., reportedly earned between 10 percent and 15 percent of money spent on the "Alaskans for Clean Water" campaign for handling most of the advertising. The campaign attempted to convince voters to approve the initiative.

Hackney also sits on the board of "Americans for Job Security" a Virginia-based group that, according to the APOC Web site, contributed $1.6 million to the "Vote yes on 4" campaign. AJS is a soft-money advertising organization that is not required, or willing, to disclose the source of its funding.

In the days leading up to the 2008 primary election, Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown, the group opposing Ballot Measure 4, challenged the ACW campaign to reveal the source of the out-of-state soft money contributions it received.

Willis Lyford, campaign director for the mining group said Alaskan voters deserved to know who funded the clean water group, and "we will make this request of ACW every day between now and the election until they make full disclosure. AJS is a soft-money shadow group with questionable campaign practices."

Other groups also supported the clean water initiative, including Trout Unlimited, which threw in $45,000 and the Renewable Resources Coalition, an anti-Pebble group that Hackney helped to form. It donated $150,000 to pro-Ballot Measure 4 coffers. The largest individual contributor was Gillam, who, according to APOC, spent $820,000 to convince voters to approve the anti-mining legislation.

Alaska's mining industry spent more than $6.6 million dollars convincing Alaskans to oppose the ballot measure.

House Bill 355

Johansen is sponsoring House Bill 355 that would require individuals or groups that financially support or oppose a ballot initiative to identify themselves and the amount of their contributions. The Open and Transparent Initiative Act also would require initiative groups to register with the APOC.

HB 355 also would set electronic filing requirements. Johansen said this is needed because disclosures of financial contributions are not currently published in a timely manner or easily available to the public.

In short, according to Johansen, HB 355 seeks to allow Alaskan voters to make the most informed decision as possible and knowing who financially contributes to initiatives is a significant part of that decision.

 

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