Wildlife initiative stirs questions on Outside cash

Amendment supporters call on opponents to disclose contributors

Posted: Thursday, October 12, 2000

The question is whether it's your money or your wildlife.

The debate over state Ballot Measure No. 1, which would amend the Constitution to bar citizen initiatives on wildlife management, has focused sharply on who's funding the campaigns.

The main ballot group urging a yes vote, Coalition for the Alaskan Way of Life, admits it has received Outside money.

In the filing the coalition says it mailed this week to the Alaska Public Offices Commission, $75,000 in cash contributions are listed from a group in Virginia nearly a quarter of the coalition's cash and in-kind total of $215,952.

But coalition spokesman Frank Bickford of Anchorage derides the opposition's campaign filings as "one of the saddest APOC reports I've ever seen."

No On 1Protect Our Constitutional Rights doesn't list any non-Alaska contributors. But nearly all of its support all but $3,163 of its $119,263 in cash contributions and all $3,594 of its in-kind contributions has come from umbrella groups. None of the contributors to those umbrella groups are listed on the No On 1 filing, and so far the groups aren't releasing the names, either.

That's all legal, as long as the umbrella groups Alaska Conservation Voters, Alaska Conservation Alliance and Northern Alaska Environmental Center didn't solicit contributions specifically to fight Ballot Measure No. 1, according to Therese Greene of APOC.

Meanwhile, Alaska Conservation Voters has its own ballot group, which received nearly all of its $138,812 in cash and in-kind contributions from affiliated or similar Alaska-based organizations again with no breakdown of internal contributors.

"We're asking for full disclosure," Bickford said. "If their money is not coming from Outside, they have a chance now to clear the air."

The Coalition for the Alaskan Way of Life has relentlessly described the no groups as funded by "radical animal rights activists" from the Lower 48.

"We have a membership base of over 5,000 people," said Mary Core of Anchorage, executive director of both the Alaska Conservation Voters, a nonprofit organization with individual members, and the Alaska Conservation Alliance, a nonprofit with membership groups. "But we have not taken any money from any animal rights group. ... We have some foundations (from Outside) that have given money."

A new ballot group opposing Ballot Measure No. 1, formed by the Alaska Conservation Alliance, received $20,000 from the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund in Washington, D.C. The contribution was made because of activity by an affiliated group in Alaska, Core said.

Vic Fisher of Anchorage, chairman of No On 1, said the original sources of his group's money are all Alaskan, "so far as we know."

"This attack on us about money is the old business of attack the messenger if you can't attack the message," Fisher said. "You can make up any allegation you want."

Fisher said the yes campaign is hypocritical because it's being funded in part by Outside hunters, trappers and guides who don't want restrictions on their sport.

Bickford said the Virginia organization Ballot Issues Coalition consists of sportsmen's groups who "have sister groups here in-state." He acknowledged that Coalition for the Alaskan Way of Life is taking Outside money to prevent the use of Outside money on wildlife initiatives in the future.

"Unfortunately, in the political system we're in today, you have to spend serious money to get your message across," Bickford said. While the coalition has 1,066 contributors who gave $100 or less, No On 1 had only 65 such contributions. That demonstrates the vast difference in breadth of support, he contends.

In one sense, Ballot Measure No. 1 itself is about money.

In attacking what they call "ballot box biology," the yes supporters say Alaskans are vulnerable to manipulation by nonresidents who can pour unlimited funds into initiative efforts. Wildlife initiatives are particularly easy to distort because the public can't sort out the scientific issues before voting, they say.

Asked if Alaska residents are gullible, amendment supporter Rep. Jeannette James, a North Pole Republican, said yes. "All (the) public is gullible. I'm gullible. Humans are gullible. ... The question is whether we ought to manage wildlife by mob rule."

Fish and Game Commissioner Frank Rue rejects that argument.

"Personally, I think Alaskans can listen to arguments on both sides of the issue and make up their minds," Rue said. "It's not just biology. It's all about policy and choices."

The amendment to bar citizen initiatives on wildlife, put on the ballot by the Legislature, is a continuing battle. In 1996, voters approved an initiative to ban same-day aerial hunting of wolves except during a biological emergency, and in 1998 voted against an initiative to ban snaring wolves.

The aerial hunting ban is back on the ballot this year, as Measure No. 6, a response by citizens to changes made by the Legislature. Subsequent laws would allow Fish and Game to use the land-and-shoot method to meet predator-prey population goals, and permit the public to use it in designated predator-control areas.

Abundant Wildlife Coalition, which opposes No. 6, reported $10,176 in total campaign income. Alaskans for Wildlife, which supports No. 6, reported total campaign income of $195,633, with about $57,000 in cash contributions this year, all from Alaska sources. However, the group reported a $38,033 mailing done on its behalf by Defenders of Wildlife, Washington, D.C.

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