Foes of Pebble mine to pay to settle alleged campaign violations

$100K: State election regulators rule against anti-mine group.

February 26, 2010 

Pebble mine foes will fork over the largest-ever cash payment to state election regulators to settle alleged campaign law violations.

The APOC on Friday approved a $100,000 settlement with several high-profile opponents of the massive copper and gold Pebble prospect in Southwest Alaska who were involved in a major ballot-measure dispute in 2008.

The regulators had accused Anchorage businessman Bob Gillam and two anti-Pebble groups of illegally hiding that Gillam was the source of about $2 million the groups spent to support that year's ballot measure attempt to block Pebble.

The $12.5 million fight over Ballot Measure 4 was the most expensive political ad war in state history. Pitting Pebble opponents against the mining industry, the proposed law sought to tighten water-pollution discharge rules for large mines. Alaskans voted it down in August 2008.

In the aftermath of the vote, both sides filed complaints against each other alleging campaign-finance violations. One case, filed by Pebble opponents against mining supporters, is still pending.

The original complaint in the case involving Gillam was filed by the companies seeking to develop Pebble and the Resource Development Council. They say that Gillam -- the biggest single donor in support of Measure 4 -- should be prosecuted on state criminal charges. APOC ultimately decided not to recommend a criminal investigation.

In the settlement approved Friday, Gillam and the groups did not admit guilt for most of their actions during the Ballot Measure 4 fight. However, they agreed that in the future, they will not make donations to an organization, knowing it will pass those donations to a ballot campaign without identifying them as the source -- an illegal "pass-through."

An attorney for one of the groups, the Anchorage-based Renewable Resources Coalition, said the parties have worked hard to clear themselves of the charges. "We think (the settlement) is a reasonable resolution," said the attorney, Peter Maassen.

He and another attorney working on behalf of the Pebble foes disputed any description of the $100,000 settlement as a "penalty" or "fine."

Matt Singer, an attorney for the companies seeking to develop Pebble, criticized APOC for agreeing with Gillam and the groups not to describe the $100,000 as a penalty or fine.

The agreement doesn't even specify who is to pay the settlement, Singer said, during an APOC hearing on Friday. He termed it "one last secret payment."

In October, APOC turned down a proposed $35,000 settlement of the case, saying it was too lenient. On Friday, the commissioners listened to lawyers for both sides argue whether the panel should accept a revised settlement, and whether it should be $60,000 or higher.

"Given the large sums of money involved, a fine of only $60,000 will not provide sufficient (deterrence) to these particular respondents, nor will it send a message to the general public that APOC will take similar allegations seriously," according to the filing, signed by a state attorney working on behalf of the commission.

Despite being the largest payment in APOC history, it was less than the $198,610 that APOC spent fighting the case.

The previous record sum levied by the Alaska Public Offices Commission was its $98,000 fine against an Anchorage construction company in 1996.


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

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