As a pivotal global leader, President Franklin D. Roosevelt influenced the growth of democracy around the world. He astutely noted that “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism -- ownership of government by an individual, by a group.” While ‘fascism’ may seem to be too strong of a word to describe the control of private power in the governing of our state affairs, the warning that Roosevelt issued is all too relevant to today.
The other term that may fit better is Corporatocracy. Corporatocracy is when both the prevailing economic and political systems used to govern a country are controlled by corporations and all their associated interests. Gus Speth, former chair of the United Nations Development Group defines corporatocracy as when corporations move beyond being the principal economic actor into also being the principal political actor as well. In essence, corporatocracy occurs when there is a pattern of having government systems controlled by corporate interest.
Is this where we are in Alaska? Perhaps. Likely, if anyone is keeping score and that would be me. Here is my scoring of recent political events.
Last August, you may recall the coastal management initiative failed at the ballot box. Without the coastal management program, Alaska’s coastal communities no longer have a seat at the state permitting table. This is the outcome of having $1.5 million spent by the opponents -- Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil Corporation, ConocoPhillips, BP, Alaska Oil and Gas Association, Pebble Partnership, the Resource Development Council -- compared with about $200,000 raised by supporters of the ballot proposition. These numbers come from reports filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
Outside Corporations - 1 Alaska’s Citizens - 0
Bipartisan Senate group broken
Next came the November 2012 elections when breaking up the Senate Bipartisan Working Group, was the main objective of those frustrated with not passing Governor Parnell’s $2 billion a year tax giveaway. Major financial contributions from big oil combined with districts re-drawn to favor Republican challengers led to the break up of the Senate Bipartisan Working Group.
Outside Corporations – 2 Alaska’s Citizens - 0
Cruise ship waste roll-back
Then in early February 2013, the Republican controlled legislature quickly approved a law proposed by Governor Parnell to abolish cruise ship wastewater standards enacted in 2006 by a citizens’ initiative. According to the Anchorage Daily News, the new law will allow the cruise industry to indefinitely discharge ammonia, a product of human waste, and heavy metals, dissolved from ship plumbing. Those discharges would have been banned in 2015 under the 2006 citizen initiative. Jim Walker, a maritime lawyer and contributor to Cruise Law News notes, “Formerly the most progressive state in the U.S. protecting its waters from harmful cruise ship discharges, Alaska was intimidated by the cruise industry to roll back its environmental regulations to permit cruise lines to dump high levels of waste by-products and heavy metals like zinc, copper and nickel.
Outside Corporations - 3 Alaska’s Citizens – 0
Massive oil industry tax cut
Now we have Senate Bill 21, the oil tax. The governor’s own cost estimate for the bill’s potential impact to Alaska’s budget is $4.5 billion in just the first five years. The biggest provision in the bill is an across-the-board reduction in Alaska's sale price for our oil. It applies to every drop of oil leaving the state and has no-strings-attached that would require the companies to invest more in Alaska, produce more oil, or hire more Alaskans. Notwithstanding the constitutional directive to use Alaska’s natural resources “for the maximum benefit of its people,” the Legislature passed SB 21 with 2 of the key votes in the Senate coming from employees of ConocoPhillips.
Outside Corporations – 4 Alaska’s Citizens – 0
Not the final score
With a score of 4 to 0, are we at the point that former President Roosevelt warned us about ... the point where the growth of private power is stronger than the democratic state itself? This is scary to think about.
However, the score is not yet final. Citizens and community organizers from across the state just turned in over 50,000 signatures to put the question of repealing SB 21 on the August 2014 ballot. Considering that the organizers only had 90 days to collect all these signatures, this is a most significant show of citizen activism and deserves to be scored. However, the real outcome occurs with the vote. As such, the score now is Outside Corporation 4, Alaska’s Citizens 1/2.
We are a state dependent upon extractive resources, but this does not give these industries the right to extract control of our democracy. With the referendum of repealing the oil tax giveaway we’ve just pushed back for a return to the owner state.
Kate Troll is a long-time Alaskan with more than 22 years of experience in fisheries, coastal and energy policy.
A version of the preceding commentary first appeared in the Juneau Empire. The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.