Big Outside spender in Alaska's '08 Pebble fight under new scrutiny

September 24, 2010 

Alaska businessman Bob Gillam's association with Americans for Job Security was investigated after the 2008 battle over Ballot Measure 4.

MICHAEL PENN / JUNEAU EMPIRE / AP FILE PHOTO

Alaska's epic 2008 battle over Ballot Measure 4, which would have placed stricter pollution rules on hard-rock mines and was targeted at the Pebble prospect in the Bristol Bay watershed, is Exhibit A in a New York Times look at a shadowy U.S. nonprofit group seeking to influence U.S. voters. Americans for Job Security, which spent $1.6 million on the anti-Pebble campaign, has emerged as the biggest spender among groups of its kind in the midterm national elections.

From The Times:

Americans for Job Security says it is careful to hew to tax and campaign-finance laws: It may not spend the majority of its resources on political activity or coordinate with party committees, and may keep its donors secret only as long as their contributions are not intended for specific ad campaigns close to an election. Instead of earmarked donations, the group says, it collects membership dues and then decides, on its own, how to spend the money.

"We believe issue advocacy is much more effective than banging down doors of members of Congress," said the group's president, Stephen DeMaura. "And you now have the Supreme Court of the United States reaffirming our rights." ...

"A lot of nonprofits game the system, but AJS is unusual in that they so blatantly try to influence elections and evade disclosure," said Taylor Lincoln, a research director at the watchdog group Public Citizen, which has filed complaints against the group in recent years. "By any common-sense, reasonable interpretation of what they do, they are in violation of the rules."

Read more about AJS in The Times here. For further background, read a 2009 Anchorage Daily News article about how AJS was pushed to ostensibly promote Ballot Measure 4 by wealthy Alaska fisherman and land owner Bob Gillam, who funneled millions of dollars in "membership dues" through the organization to mine opponents. Gillam, AJS and others eventually agreed to pay cash settlements to the state without admitting violation of Alaska campaign laws.

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