Six regional Native corporations, some with substantial oil-field business, announced Wednesday they have formed a coalition to oppose the oil-tax cut referendum in August with at least $500,000 in campaign spending.
The new group, "No One on One," joins two other business-backed organizations in opposing the referendum, including one in which Alaska's three big oil producers have already provided millions of dollars.
Supporters of the referendum say they expect to be outspent many times over but believe voters will still vote to repeal Senate Bill 21, passed by the Legislature in 2013.
The Native corporation coalition announcement was staged in the cavernous South Anchorage fabrication shop owned by a subsidiary of Arctic Slope Regional Corp., one of the coalition members. Workers in white hard hats stood as a backdrop to the podium, and dozens more supporters, including House Speaker Mike Chenault, were in the audience.
Welders, lathe operators and other craftsmen at the shop build metal parts and equipment for the North Slope.
"It's safe to say that we're going to be doing healthy media buys," said Tara Sweeney, senior vice president of Barrow-based Arctic Slope Regional Corp.
The coalition's official spokesman will be Jason Moore, communications director for Anchorage-based Cook Inlet Region Inc. The other regional corporations in the group are Doyon Ltd., in Interior Alaska; NANA Regional Corp. from Kotzebue; Bristol Bay Native Corp.; and Nome-centered Bering Straits Native Corp.
Representatives of all six said they believed the tax cut is promoting job growth and spending by oil producers, and that their shareholders are benefiting.
Sweeney said the group is an outgrowth of the 2010 effort to re-elect U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski as a write-in candidate, in which Moore was deeply involved.
But that $1.7 million effort, under the name "Alaskans Standing Together," involved 11 regional corporations, seven village corporations and the Alaska Federation of Natives, far more than have signed up for the current effort. Sweeney said she hoped the other Native organizations would join the current campaign.
But this time around, Julie Kitka, AFN president, said the organization had no plans to back either side of the referendum. A spokesman for Sealaska Corp., based in Juneau, said it wouldn't join the coalition.
Byron Mallott, a one-time Sealaska chief executive and now the Democratic candidate for governor, said he understands why the six corporations are opposing the referendum, even as he plans to vote for it.
"Those corporations that are supporting the 'Vote No' effort have strong ties to the oil industry in terms of work that they do in that industry," Mallott said in an interview Wednesday. "It's surely in their corporate interests to have the best relationships with the industry, and with the business community that supports, and is sustained by, the industry."
The regional corporations not joining the coalition don't have those ties, Mallott said, and their interests lie elsewhere.
If the referendum succeeds in the polls in August, it would restore the previous tax regime, Alaska's Clear and Equitable Choice, or ACES. Mallott said he and other supporters of the referendum believe ACES should be amended to encourage more oil industry investment in Alaska.
"We would have to begin immediately making ACES be the most fair, balanced tax possible that maximizes revenue to Alaska's people but also keeps a strong and competitive oil industry in place in Alaska for our future," Mallott said.
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.