AkPIRG says oil-tax cut supporters should list donors

rmauer@adn.comOctober 18, 2012 

AkPIRG director Matt Wallace, left, and consultant Jim Sykes say its bad public policy that the group supporting oil tax cuts doesn't have to disclose its contributions. They said the Make Alaska Competitive Coalition uses language in its commercials that make it sound like it's supporting or opposing candidates, but because it doesn't name names, it can avoid disclosure through a legal loophole.

RICHARD MAUER

— The political watchdog organization AkPIRG said Thursday that bad public policy is allowing anonymous contributions to support an advertising campaign favoring oil tax cuts.

AkPIRG director Matt Wallace and consultant Jim Sykes said the Make Alaska Competitive Coalition is taking advantage of a loophole in the law to avoid disclosing its donors even though it's trying to influence the election.

"It doesn't really make any difference if it's legal or not," said Sykes, a founder of the Green Party in Alaska and once its candidate for governor and U.S. senator. "If you're obviously trying to persuade the people to do something in an election, you should know about it."

Under state and federal law, including the 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, an organization like MACC is allowed to raise and spend unlimited funds and not report its activity as long as it's not supporting or opposing specific candidates or ballot measures.

MACC announced its latest campaign in support of reduced oil taxes at a news conference last month attended by former Democratic and Republican leaders and business officials with ties to the oil industry. They asserted that reduced oil taxes would lead the state's big producers to drill more wells and slow or reverse the decline of oil flowing through the trans-Alaska pipeline.

"I would disagree that we're necessarily trying to influence the election," said MACC spokesman Jason Moore. "We're trying to make people aware that this is a big issue and they need to think about and have that on their mind when they're talking to state officials or representatives or candidates."

But at a meeting with reporters in Anchorage, Sykes said the language of the MACC ads shows they're obviously trying to influence voters.

"The earliest ad that was out there had, 'I'm voting for, I'm voting for, I'm voting for,' but there's nothing on the ballot, there is nothing that you can actually vote for -- you can't vote for or against lowering oil taxes. So the only thing that you can vote for in this election is a candidate," Sykes said.

The language of the MACC ads closely matches that of an organization supported by industry that has named candidates and has been reporting its activity to the Alaska Public Office Commission, Wallace said.

Wallace said AkPIRG, which grew out of a national consumer movement started by advocate Ralph Nader, will be asking Alaskans to monitor the airwaves for other organizations that may appear in the weeks before the Nov. 6 election.

Reach Richard Mauer at rmauer@adn.com or 257-4345.

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