Businessman's millions bankrolled anti-Pebble drive

INVESTIGATION: Filings with APOC indicate Gillam was the go-to man for mine opponents.

June 10, 2009 

For years, a wealthy Alaska businessman who funded opposition to the proposed Pebble mine has shunned the spotlight.

But the status quo for Bob Gillam, an Anchorage financial manager, has drastically changed now that he is in hot water with state regulators.

E-mails, bank transactions and sworn testimony newly released as part of an Alaska Public Offices Commission investigation provide details about Gillam's involvement and the extent of his check-writing. The commission is investigating whether he illegally gave $2 million to back last summer's expensive ballot measure campaign seeking stricter pollution rules for hard-rock mines. The commission also is scrutinizing a few anti-Pebble groups and individuals who worked with Gillam on the ballot measure.

The documents and testimony provide a rare window into Gillam's role in the fight over Pebble, a multibillion-dollar copper and gold mine prospect that is controversial due to its location near the headwaters of two of the five rivers that feed Bristol Bay's rich salmon runs. The Pebble fight pits environmentalists, fishermen, hunters and some Native villages against mining companies and others who believe the mine can be built safely.

The filings to APOC indicate that Gillam was the go-to person for Pebble opponents when lawyers needed to be paid, legislators lobbied, voter initiatives funded and advertising campaigns launched.

The anti-Pebble campaign has been running for at least four years. The APOC filings show that from July 2007 through last August, the Anchorage money manager channeled more than $4 million of his personal wealth into the effort, not including legal and lobbying expenses.

The documents also provide insight into why Gillam doesn't want Pebble developed into a mine.

"It will destroy the Bristol Bay salmon runs which have, for generations, provided a livelihood for thousands of Alaskans," Gillam said in a sworn statement. "I also believe the mine will destroy subsistence resources which have sustained Native people in the region for thousands of years."

Gillam, an avid fisherman who owns a home on Lake Clark, near the mineral deposit, told APOC that the Pebble fight was important enough to him that when he suffered a serious illness last year, he wired $1 million to a group that he knew opposed Pebble just days after leaving the hospital.

He said he worried about his health and he wanted to make sure money was still available to fight the mine.

APOC is scrutinizing that donation and others he made.

The two mining companies that plan to seek permits to develop Pebble into a mine have denounced the media campaign against their project, saying it's loaded with falsehoods. They disagree with Gillam's belief that Pebble will harm Bristol Bay salmon. Their joint venture, the Pebble Partnership, argues that fish runs and the proposed mine can coexist.

The partnership and a pro-business group, the Resource Development Council of Alaska, filed the complaint against Gillam and other groups APOC is investigating.

BIRTH OF THE INITIATIVES

Gillam told APOC investigators that last year's Clean Water initiatives were his idea.

"In 2007, I became convinced that the Legislature would not take steps to improve regulation of the mining industry or otherwise protect the Bristol Bay area," he wrote to APOC in May.

He decided a ballot initiative -- getting voters themselves, not legislators, to change the law -- was the best alternative after he heard how Montana residents concerned about mine pollution had used an initiative to create new rules, he told APOC.

Gillam provided money for lawyers to draft the initiatives and later defend them in court; for volunteers to fan out to collect signatures for ballot petition booklets; and for anti-Pebble groups to promote them in ads, he said.

When sponsors of the multiple Clean Water initiatives huddled up to decide which one they preferred, at least one of them called Gillam for advice, he told APOC.

The version of the initiative preferred by Gillam -- Ballot Measure 4 -- ended up on the Aug. 26 ballot. It failed after one of the most expensive political campaigns in state history. Alaskans were bombarded with more than $10 million in advertising, mailings and other information, with the mining industry spending far more than Gillam-funded organizations.

WRITING CHECKS

For years, Pebble backers have asserted that Gillam is the main money behind the opposition. They paint him as a rich guy doling out cash to prevent the development of an open-pit mine near his lakefront property.

"The argument was, you know, Bob has a home, he has a commercial interest, and these (anti-Pebble) guys are nothing more than his extension," Gillam said in oral testimony to APOC.

That was a reference to the Anchorage-based Renewable Resources Coalition, made up of sportsmen and others who oppose Pebble. Gillam said he abandoned his post as a director of the coalition "to deflate that argument."

Gillam said that he's owned the home on Lake Clark for nearly 25 years and his critics implied it was a commercial operation. "And that of course is not true," he told APOC.

After becoming a lightning rod on the Pebble issue, Gillam lowered his public profile. He rarely granted interviews to Alaska media outlets about Pebble, even when he was under direct attack. But he continued to provide millions of dollars to the coalition and other anti-Pebble groups, and he often shared his strong opinions about anti-Pebble campaign strategy, the APOC filings show.

For example, Gillam gave $2 million to the Renewable Resources Coalition in the fiscal year ending in June 2008, according to APOC filings. Some of that money arrived on June 2 of last year, just before Gillam was to undergo surgery.

"I just had a premonition that it wouldn't go as well as I thought and I'd better make sure that the RRC had plenty of money to operate on in the ensuing period. So, that's why I did it on the second, and there was no -- just like a lot of the money I gave to them, it was unrestricted, and to this day, I don't know what they actually did with it," Gillam said in sworn testimony last month.

Gillam separately gave $850,000 to Alaskans for Clean Water, a group set up to push for the Clean Water initiative.

Richard Jameson, board chairman of the Renewable Resources Coalition, testified to APOC last month that "sometimes (Gillam) would get a hot idea himself for a media ad, and he would, well, here's an extra, you know, $25,000 for an ad like this, and he would hand us a napkin or something with an ad."

But disagreements about how to handle the ballot measure fight occasionally erupted between the two men.

In an e-mail acquired by APOC, Jameson urged Gillam to "come clean" about money he had donated or risk losing the initiative fight.

Gillam told APOC he thought Jameson was "uninformed."

ONGOING INVESTIGATION

After APOC opened its investigation, Gillam revealed that he had joined a Virginia-based group, Americans for Job Security, paying $2 million in membership fees, hoping that the group would use the money to fight Pebble.

He made one payment, for $1 million, on June 19.

That was followed by $500,000 on July 11 and another $500,000 on July 22.

Within days of Gillam wiring the money, Americans for Job Security furnished slightly smaller amounts to Alaskans for Clean Water, the group running the pro-ballot measure campaign.

An APOC investigator says that's an illegal "pass through" under state law and recommended the commission assess the maximum penalty against Gillam and the others he worked with, including the Renewable Resources Coalition, Americans for Job Security and several others.

The investigator also suggested that the state attorney general open a criminal investigation.

Gillam told APOC he's done nothing wrong.

"I have opposed the Pebble Mine," he said in sworn testimony on May 28. "I will continue to do so, and I am absolutely convinced that we followed the law. We followed your rules. We filed on time, and we did it the way it should be done."


Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317.

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