Our view: Pebble complaint

Partnership makes serious case against foes of mine

April 11, 2009 

Developers of the Pebble gold and copper mining prospect have accused political opponents of numerous campaign-law violations during the 2008 Clean Water initiative fight.

Read the complaint filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission and its supporting evidence, and it looks like they've got a case.

Read the response by the accused -- Renewable Resources Coalition, Alaskans for Clean Water, Americans for Job Security and Bob Gillam -- and it looks like they have a rebuttal.

The complaint says the groups failed to disclose campaign contributions, laundered money and made illegal contributions and payments -- as much as $2 million from Mr. Gillam, according to the complaint. The response says the Pebble Partnership has misrepresented the facts to do a "hatchet job" on Pebble opposition.

Much of the complaint's evidence is based on e-mails provided to the Pebble Partnership by Robert Kaplan, who was hired as a fundraiser by backers of the initiative but later fought with them over what he was owed. The e-mails appear to show an effort to funnel Mr. Gillam's money into the ballot campaign without publicly revealing the full scale of his contributions.

APOC needs to do a thorough investigation. Whether the mining project should go forward is a big question for Alaska, with much at stake. Any suspicion that the debate has been tainted needs to be resolved. That's APOC's job.

While that investigation goes forward, this case reinforces the need for stronger state disclosure laws. Certain groups are allowed to spend money on ballot measures without saying who contributes the money.

All players in the political process in Alaska need to stand up and be counted. You want to play? Then identify yourself.

When Americans for Job Security, a Virginia-based nonprofit business association, inserts itself into an Alaska campaign, Alaskans don't want to hear that it does not disclose its contributors. The Renewable Resources Coalition, an Alaska-based nonprofit, takes the same position: Their donors' privacy is protected. Alaska law doesn't require disclosure.

We respect the right to privacy. But when any nonprofit association decides to campaign for or against a ballot proposition or a candidate, the public need to know trumps the right to privacy.

Alaskans need to know who's playing in their politics, how they're playing and how much money they're playing with.

Right now Alaska law provides a big loophole for contributors to a group that jumps into the political debate. Only a group organized for the express purpose of influencing an election has to reveal its contributors. A group organized for other, non-election purposes -- at least on paper -- can try to influence an election without facing the same disclosure requirements.

Alaska law should be clear. Any group or individual that tries to influence an election in Alaska needs to tell Alaskans who's footing the bill.

BOTTOM LINE: Pebble foes faces serious charges of election improprieties, in a case that reveals flaws in the state disclosure laws.

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