Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified a spokesperson for ConocoPhillips as a spokesperson for BP. The article has been updated to reflect this change.
The Stand for Salmon ballot initiative — set for a November statewide ballot — is swimming upstream against a first-quarter flood of money from mining and oil and gas groups.
Stand for Alaska, the group working against them, has raised more than $2 million in campaign funds so far this year, according to quarterly reports submitted Tuesday. In the same time period, the initiative’s backers have raised only $204,430.
Most of the anti-initiative money comes from mining and oil and gas companies operating in Alaska, including $200,000 from Hecla Mining Company, $200,000 from Coeur Alaska, $200,000 from Pebble Limited Partnership and $500,000 from BP Exploration (Alaska), Inc., according to Alaska Public Office’s Commission.
It’s the biggest fundraising push for either side of the controversial ballot initiative, which would create more stringent permitting requirements for development on salmon habitat in Alaska.
“Our fundraising report reflects Stand For Alaska’s commitment to mount a robust campaign against this dangerous ballot measure that threatens our communities, our jobs and our economy,” Stand for Alaska spokesperson Kati Capozzi said in a statement provided to the Empire. “Our funding also reflects broad support from within Alaska’s resource industries because they see this measure as jeopardizing both existing operations and future projects across Alaska.”
Hecla, Coeur, Pebble, as well as Kinross Fort Knox, Sumitomo Metal Mining Pogo and Donlin Gold each donated $200,000 this quarter, according to the report, filed with the APOC. BP’s $500,000 contribution is the largest chunk of money, while ConocoPhillips added the next highest dollar amount, kicking in $250,000.
Capozzi said they won’t spend the money until the Alaska Supreme Court decides on the initiative’s constitutionality during an April 26 hearing. An advertising push could sway voters come November, but Capozzi said campaign plans aren’t yet finalized.
“We just don’t know yet,” she said, when asked if Alaskans can expect a big television advertising push.
On the other side of the issue is Stand for Salmon, the larger policy group backing the initiative and a similar bill working its way through the Alaska Legislature. They’re doing most of the legwork for the entity known in APOC documents as Yes for Salmon — the only real parallel to Stand for Alaska.
Stand for Salmon Director Ryan Schryver said they’ll counter Stand for Alaska’s fundraising with grassroots organizing. Volunteers are tabling at events and going door to door to make their case, Schryver said when reached by phone Wednesday.
“It’s going to be a straight-up David and Goliath story, where individual Alaskans are talking to neighbors about the salmon stories in their lives,” Schryver said.
Its biggest contributor is John Childs, listed in the APOC report with a Vero Beach, Florida, address. Childs contributed $100,000 to Yes for Salmon. After Childs, the New Venture Fund of Washington, D.C., donated the second most to Yes for Salmon. The bulk of the rest of the funding comes from individuals or Alaska-based conservation groups.
Opponents and backers of Stand for Salmon can’t agree on exactly what the ballot initiative would mean for Alaska development. Industry officials have said the permitting system proposed in the initiative would effectively halt development in most of Alaska.
“We believe the ballot initiative could significantly impact our North Slope operations,” ConocoPhillips spokesperson Natalie Lowman wrote in a statement to the Empire. “We believe the ballot initiative, if passed, could provide a pathway for unnecessary delays and litigation because of its ambiguities and broad scope. We are also concerned that in some instances, it could prohibit developments on the North Slope and elsewhere in the state.”
Proponents of the initiative have said they simply want to update 60-year-old law to provide for more responsible permitting for large projects like mines and oil and gas infrastructure.
The initiative is an eight-page document that outlines a two-tier permitting process for development on salmon habitat. That process will be administered through the Alaska Department of Fish & Game and wouldn’t apply to existing project permits.
November’s vote might come down to how widely each side can spread their interpretation of the initiative.
Schryver said Stand for Alaska will seek to mislead Alaskans over what the ballot initiative does.
“I think they’re willing to spend as much as the need to confuse Alaskans,” Schryver said.
Alaskans will vote on the Stand for Salmon initiative in November barring intervention from the Alaska Supreme Court, which will hear arguments over the constitutionality of the ballot measure on April 26 in Anchorage.
The state has argued that Stand for Salmon violates constitutional provisions by effectively appropriating state resources, something only the Alaska Legislature can do.
But even if the Supreme Court finds constitutional problems, it likely won’t keep the initiative from a November vote. The Supreme Court is required to remove only the language it believes to be unconstitutional, leaving the rest of the initiative language intact.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.