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Alaska election: Shell dives into state politics and ‘super PACs’ emerge

Amanda Coyne | Jul 31, 2012

As Royal Dutch Shell prepares to explore for offshore oil in Alaska’s Arctic, the company is also waging an effort against a ballot initiative that supporters say would restore the voice of Alaskans in federal coastal decisions.

Shell has contributed $150,000 to the Vote No on 2 campaign, which opposes reinstating the controversial Coastal Zone Management program, according to the latest campaign finance reports. Vote No on 2 has raised $768,000 — far more than the $64,000 raised by the Alaska Sea Party, the proponents of reviving Coastal Zone Management.

On Monday, candidates and groups were required to file campaign finance reports in advance of the Aug. 28 primary. (Read more: “Alaska Senate races under way as campaign war chests fill up“)

Ballot Initiative 2

Last year, the Alaska Legislature allowed the Coastal Zone Management Program to lapse amid a complex debate of what the program’s role should be in local coastal issues. Ballot Initiative 2, which Alaskans will vote on Aug. 28, aims to restore the program.

The program allows localities to have a seat at the table as decisions are made about projects slated for federal land or waters. Many opponents of the initiative argue that Ballot Measure 2 would restore a layer of red tape that hampers development and reinstates a framework for local groups to act independently and squash or meddle with projects already governed by existing law. Those in favor of the measure argue that the program doesn’t allow localities to take power over a project from the state or federal government and that local concerns are too easy for decision makers, particularly federal bureaucrats thousands of miles from Alaska, to overlook, misunderstand or ignore.

Since local authorities in essentially all coastal areas have signed on in support of reinstatement, and many powerful business interests have signed on in opposition, the initiative is shaping up to be a knock-down, drag-out campaign.

Shell’s contribution to Vote No on 2, which opposes the reinstatement of the program, is the single largest of any company so far — a move that pits it against the North Slope Borough, the closest local government to Shell’s offshore oil prospects in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. The borough has contributed more than $16,000 to support the ballot initiative reinstating the program.

Shell has had more than 450 meetings with borough citizens and local governments over the years as it tried to gain support for its controversial offshore oil program. On Thursday, Shell’s chief executive told analysts the oil company still hopes to drill two exploration wells in Alaska’s Arctic this year.

The mining industry has also contributed heavily against the Coastal Zone Management Program. The Alaska Miners Association has given about $155,701 so far, while individual mining companies also gave tens of thousands of dollars.

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, who sits on the steering committee of the Alaska Sea Party, believes the donations by industry groups is “evidence of the very reason we need coastal management.”

“We want to see the state and communities having a full say and input on decisions that affect our coasts,” he said Tuesday.

Emergence of so-called ‘Super Pac’

So far in this year’s local elections, it appears that only a handful of independent groups, or PACs, have emerged that might take advantage of the controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling that opens the door for massive contributions.

The 2010 Citizens United ruling makes it legal for corporations and unions to contribute unlimited resources to groups opposing or supporting political candidates, as long as the groups do not coordinate with the candidate.

The Alaska group that has reported the most money accumulated so far is We Are Alaska, with $100,000, according to its state filings.

We Are Alaska is so far fully funded by the Alaska Support Industry Alliance. According to its registration submitted to the Alaska Public Offices Commission, the group “intends to promote responsible development of Alaska’s oil, gas and mining resources by providing the public with relevant information regarding initiatives and candidates for state office.”

Rebecca Logan, manager of the Alliance, formed We Are Alaska. The group has reported one estimated expense. It plans to give $20,000 to PS Strategies, an advertising firm jointly owned by Dave Stieren and Mary Ann Pruitt.

Stieren is a conservative talk show host on KFQD-750 AM and Pruitt is executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Alaska, a trade organization for the construction industry, a position previously held by Logan.

Pruitt’s husband, Lance Pruitt, is a state representative living in Anchorage.

Contact Amanda Coyne at [email protected]


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