Our view: Clean initiatives

APOC dismisses some charges but leaves disclosure at issue

November 23, 2009 

Voters settled the most expensive electoral campaign in Alaska's history in August 2008. But the Clean Water Initiative provides an ongoing lesson in the need for full disclosure in our political process. The Alaska Public Offices Commission has dismissed charges against Art Hackney, Michael Dubke and Richard Jameson for failing to register as a group when they first began planning and raising money in support of the initiative, which sought to tighten mining laws and was aimed at stopping development of the Pebble gold and copper prospect in Southwest Alaska. That dismissal was based on grounds of freedom of speech and freedom of association.

Still at issue is the charge, backed by APOC investigators, that Anchorage businessman Bob Gillam and others sought to hide about $2 million of his contributions to the cause. APOC wisely rejected a proposed $30,000 settlement with Gillam and others in that case.

Their decision was wise because the attempt to hide the backers of initiative campaigns in Alaska is an attempt to withhold information from Alaska voters. In this case, initiative supporters worried that Gillam's bankrolling would underscore his personal stake in stopping the mine -- he owns a lodge near the Pebble prospect -- and draw attention from the environmental and public policy arguments.

So they sought ways -- particularly through the cover of a shell outfit called Americans for Job Security -- to keep Gillam's name from his contributions.

That shell game has no place in Alaska elections.

Alaskans need to know who's bankrolling both sides of an initiative and why. No hiding behind front groups.

Anyone who wants to be a political player in Alaska must be willing to stand up and be counted. Anonymity is valid in one place -- the voting booth. Those who would move voters one way or another by means of money or persuasion should be front and center. That way voters can judge for themselves the significance of self-interest versus public interest.

In the case of the Clean Water Initiative, Gillam's role as godfather was no secret. But the evidence is strong that he and others sought to hide the extent of that role. APOC's ruling on that should provide a strong deterrent to anyone else tempted to play that way.

BOTTOM LINE: Clean elections in representative democracy require full disclosure of contributors -- both how much and how.

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