Official: Tax-exempt group started as a front for oil giants

Former president of Alaska's Future says support came from 'Big Three'

Posted: Wednesday, October 11, 2006

JUNEAU - A nonpartisan organization described as a group of pro-business young Alaskans was created as a front for Exxon Mobil Corp., BP and ConocoPhillips to promote a natural gas pipeline deal, the group's former president said.

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Now the focus of that group, Alaska's Future, has shifted to defeating a ballot measure that would impose a $1 billion annual tax on natural gas leaseholders until a gas pipeline is built. Most of the North Slope's gas leases are owned by the three companies.

Two sponsors of the ballot initiative have filed a complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission to force Alaska's Future to identify its sources of funding. State Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, calls Alaska's Future a "ridiculous sham group" able to hide its income because it does not meet the legal definition of a group required to make public disclosures.

The complaint is to be heard by the commission Wednesday.

According to interviews and documents, the three companies were the originators of Alaska's Future when it was created in fall 2005 and they played an integral role in organizing and funding the group in its first months of existence.

George Culpepper Jr. was a founding director and former president of the group who left in January because he said his salary wasn't being paid. He said Alaska's Future was set up in an agreement between the three oil producers, Republican political consultant Art Hackney and the three founding directors: himself, Shane Langlund and Brandon Maitlen.

"There is no membership list. It was a front to hide the support of the Big Three," said Culpepper, who now lives in Washington state.

Hackney met with representatives from all three companies in September 2005. According to an e-mail from Hackney to Culpepper describing that meeting, he wrote three company representatives told him: "We are prepared to do something that our companies have never done - empower you to set up a third-party group and supply the money to fund it, even though it is out of our direct control. If you screw up we all lose our jobs."

Hackney wrote in the same e-mail that the three companies want a plan "instantaneously" because a gas pipeline deal with Gov. Frank Murkowski could be completed soon and "they want us ready to roll."

The name of the group would be "Alaska's Future," Hackney wrote.

BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said Hackney went to the company about Alaska's Future and BP became a contributing member.

"We were approached about a group that was interested in advancing issues that was of economic interest to Alaskans and BP. We provided the funding and the initial guidance," Beaudo said.

Beaudo declined to comment on Hackney's e-mail message about the meeting with the three producers.

Exxon Mobil released a prepared statement that said, "We are supportive of Alaska's Future, and are a member."

ConocoPhillips officials did not return calls for comment.

ConocoPhillips dropped out of the group last October once it reached a deal on its own with Murkowski on fiscal terms for a gas pipeline, Culpepper said.

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