Opponents of Pebble Mine settled with the Alaska Public Offices Commission on Friday, agreeing to pay the largest amount ever for alleged 2008 campaign finance disclosure violations.
That settlement, however, did not contain an admission of wrongdoing.
The Alaska Public Offices Commission accepted a $100,000 settlement for a complaint filed against the Renewable Resources Coalition, Inc., Alaskans for Clean Water and Anchorage millionaire Robert B. Gillam for violations of campaign donation disclosure law regarding the failed August 2008 Clean Water initiative, also known as Ballot Measure 4.
The Anchorage Daily News reported that despite being the largest payment in APOC history, it was less than the $198,610 the organization spent fighting the case.
The measure would have created stricter rules for water-pollution discharges for large mines and could have been used to try and stop the proposed Pebble Mine. The ballot measure's proponents and dissidents spent a combined total of about $12.5 million on it. The complaintants include Pebble Limited Partnership, Pebble Mines Corp., and the Resource Development Council.
The complainants and an APOC investigation alleged that Gillam improperly donated a total of $1.75 million of his money to AFCW, funneling it through the RRC and another organization, Americans for Job Security.
Gillam, RRC and AJS said the funds were not earmarked for any specific purpose. Gillam has been donating to RRC for the last five years and was briefly on the board in 2005.
Gillam also contributed $585,000 directly to AFCW in August 2008.
Respondents' lawyers stressed that Gillam, RRC and AFCW did not intend to do anything wrong, and had in fact sought legal counsel on how to donate to the campaign initiative legally. The settlement contains verbiage to that effect: "While the staff and the respondents stand by their respective positions, both acknowledge that the positions of the other are held and asserted in good faith ... staff acknowledges that substantial evidence exists that respondents did not intend to violate any provision of Alaska law and, instead, took substantial efforts to obtain and rely on proper advice."
This was something commissioners questioned over the course of Friday's hearing.
"It seems like there was an intent to deceive the public as to his (Gillam's) intentions," said Commission Chairwoman Elizabeth Hickerson.
"'Deceive' might be a strong word," said Assistant Attorney General Tom Dosik, who represented APOC staff. "He did go to a lawyer about how to do this legally (but) he got the wrong advice."
Gillam and AFCW's lawyer, Timothy McKeever, said the staff report was "a statement ofallegations."
Some allegations have since been dismissed.
After Dosik, McKeever and RRC lawyer Peter Maassen revised the settlement to reflect commissioners' requests for more specific language as to what type of action their clients would avoid in the future, complainants' lawyer Matthew Singer maintained the complainants' objection to the settlement. "Now you have a promise not to do what they don't admit they did," he said.
Language was a paramount concern as attorneys hashed out the agreement. Singer said given the respondents' financial means, words "may matter more than dollar amounts."
"If the respondents aren't willing to acknowledge payment of a fine, don't call it anything," Singer said of the payment. "Why adopt the respondents' euphemism... . Either say it like it is or use neutral language. Don't whitewash."
Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc. Executive Director Jason Brune issued a statement shortly after the hearing's conclusion saying RDC is "very disappointed."
"The evidence clearly pointed to wrongdoing. ... With this ruling, it (APOC) sets the precedent for future campaigns to simply budget 1-2% into their races for post-election fines as a cost of doing business," he wrote.
Both Dosik and the respondents' lawyers agreed in discussion Friday that continued litigation could be very costly for the state and for respondents, possibly dragging it on for years. The two sides had agreed to a payment of between $60,000 and $100,000; the commission decided the exact amount.
Respondents argued that AJS's resolution should serve as a measure. APOC and AJS reached a settlement in September that required AJS to pay $20,000.
Dosik disagreed, saying AJS was merely Gillam's "tool."
"This conduct deserves the highest payment in history to send the message it will be looked at seriously," Dosik said.
McKeever said his clients had incurred more than $100,000 in attorneys fees and costs, and had lost $1.8 million in "funds they had been promised" as a result of the complaint.
Maassen said RRC has "suffered reputational harm" and is having difficulty fundraising as a result of the complaints. "My client is anxious to put this behind it and move on and comply fully with the law as it understands the law to be," Maasen said.
Gillam, RRC and AFCW are expected to sign the agreement next week.
Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.