ANCHORAGE — People gathering signatures in support of a referendum to repeal Alaska’s tax break for oil companies are getting some unwanted company.
A veteran political consultant confirms he has hired workers to shadow signature gatherers. The workers try to talk people out of signing the petition. Political strategist Art Hackney told the Anchorage Daily News that he hired the workers to rebut claims by referendum backers.
“It is legal and proper that we would have people on the public commons arguing on this issue as it is for them to collect the signatures,” Hackney said by phone from Washington, D.C. “So we are simply exercising that right.”
The tactic is unheard of in Alaska, said Pat Lavin, a leader of the referendum effort.
“It’s shocking that a political consultant would be funding, paying people and setting up an organized disruption operation,” Lavin said.
The focus of the two sides is a measure approved by the Alaska Legislature that overhauls Alaska oil taxes in an effort to increase production and investment. Supporters, including Gov. Sean Parnell, argue that the state could not stand by while production declined. Critics call the bill a giveaway to the industry that contains no guarantee of investment. They warn it will devastate Alaska’s economy with sharp revenue reductions for state coffers.
The proposed referendum would let voters decide. Supporters need to collect about 30,000 signatures by July 13. If they succeed, the measure would appear on the primary ballot in August 2014.
A signature collector outside the Barnes & Noble store in Anchorage on Thursday was flanked by women holding signs urging voters not to sign “before you know all the facts.” One of the women, Sarah Hetemi, referred questions to Hackney. Hetemi said she tells voters to visit a website, imadeamistake.org.
The website was created by Hackney. He said the site provides a form that makes it easy for petition-signers to ask that their signatures be removed.
Hetemi also refers people to weareak.com, a website, paid for by the Alaska Support Industry Alliance.
Hackney said he did not coordinate the shadowing effort with the oil industry trade organization. Alliance general manager Rebecca Logan said the group’s board discussed the idea and decided against it. Hackney told the group he might use the shadowing technique anyway.
Hackney, the son of former state Sen. Glenn Hackney, R-Fairbanks, is a veteran political consultant who has worked on the campaigns of U.S. Rep. Don Young of Alaska and other Republican candidates. He has worked in recent years on the campaign to stop development of the proposed Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska.