Battle of the ballot

Posted: Sunday, June 25, 2000

With just four months to go before the November general election, advocacy groups are starting to lay the groundwork for campaigns for and against various ballot propositions.

Six groups have registered so far with the Alaska Public Offices Commission to campaign on ballot issues. Registering is a requirement before they can raise and spend money.

The campaigns are likely to get quite expensive, according to some of those involved.

``We're hoping to do this as economically as possible,'' said Ernie Hall, chairman of Alaskans United Against the Cap. Still, he expects, the group will spend $200,000 to $300,000. The group was formed to fight against a proposed 10-mill property tax cap.

Another group, Tax Cap Yes!, has formed to advocate for the cap.

``We'll raise several hundred thousand,'' said Jim Crawford, who's running the campaign for that group. ``This will be a full-blown statewide campaign.''

Two groups, Hemp2000 and Free Hemp in Alaska, have registered to support a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana and other hemp products. And two groups, Alaska Outdoor Council and Coalition for the Alaskan Way of Life, have registered to advocate for a constitutional amendment that would prevent citizens from voting in the future on wildlife management issues.

No groups have registered yet opposing the hemp initiative or opposing the wildlife constitutional amendment.

Pete Buist, co-chairman of Coalition for the Alaskan Way of Life, said so far the group has raised ``just barely enough to go out and buy some stationery.'' But he expects it will need to raise and spend quite a bit more to be successful.

Opponents of a ban on hunting wolves the same day a hunter is airborne spent about $20,000 fighting the measure in 1996, he said. They lost. Taking a lesson from that, in 1998 a coalition opposing a measure to ban trapping wolves with snares spent $306,000. They won.

Buist expects contributions for the campaign in favor of the wildlife constitutional amendment will come from sportsmen's organizations, individual hunters and trappers, tribal governments and Native advocacy groups -- the same coalition of interests that helped defeat the proposed 1998 trapping measure.

Al Anders of Hemp2000 said his group raised $7,000 at an April concert, and he expects such events will be a mainstay of the group's fund-raising efforts.

Hemp2000 will focus on voter turnout because the group believes most people favor legalization of marijuana, and it's just a matter of getting them to the polls, he said.

Free Hemp in Alaska, he said, has more of an educational focus than Hemp2000.

Ronda Marcy, chairwoman of Free Hemp in Alaska, said the group has rented space in downtown Anchorage for an ``exhibition hall'' where fund-raisers can be held and hemp-related products can be displayed.

In addition to items such as hemp clothing, hemp postcards, hemp lip balm and hemp pizza dough, the groups hopes to be able to demonstrate an engine that can run from hemp oil, she said.

Groups advocating a position on ballot issues have an easier time raising money than candidates for office do.

Unlike candidates, they are allowed to accept donations from corporations, unions and out-of-state organizations, said Therese Greene, group coordinator at APOC. There's also no limit on a how much a single contributor can donate to a group.

Huge amounts have been spent on controversial ballot issues in the past. Last year supporters of a measure to allow Permanent Fund earnings to be spent on state government spent $693,000, while one opposing group spent almost $70,000, Greene said. In 1998 a group promoting a ban on same-sex marriages spent $616,000, while opponents of that measure spent about $212,000.

Groups don't have to file their first report on how much they've raised or spent until October.

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