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Group fighting oil tax cut apologizes for attack on former Gov. Knowles

Alex DeMarban

A group fighting to repeal Alaska’s new oil-production tax cut publicly issued an apology on Monday days after a volunteer sent out a caustic statement that, among other things, accused former Gov. Tony Knowles of being a “paid shill” for the other side.

In fact, the group, Vote Yes! Repeal the Giveaway, has no evidence showing that Knowles is paid by the opposition and should have never have sent the email, said the group’s campaign manager, T.J. Presley.

“It’s an apology saying we’re sorry for the tone and aggressive nature of the email,” Presley said. “It was a personal attack, and while we don’t agree with his policy position, there was no reason to drag him through the mud on a personal level.”

The repeal group says the tax cut is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the oil industry, especially BP, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil, the state’s largest oil producers. The industry is spending millions of dollars to fight Ballot Measure 1, which was initiated by the repeal group. Voters will consider the measure in the primary election Aug. 19.

Knowles, a Democratic governor who served eight years until 2002, said the statement was wrong on every count. 

He has publicly voiced support for the tax cut, and has worked with the group Keep Alaska Competitive. But that support is voluntary, he said.

The statement from the repeal group, issued on Friday, said Knowles had not shown up for a debate as expected on Alaska Public Media’s "Talk of Alaska" radio show. That should be no surprise, the email continued.

“This is the same Tony Knowles who gave his friends at BP a $200 million dollar oil lease for free while receiving several hundred thousand dollars in a secret bank account for his own personal use. Knowles continued his crony ways by attempting to allow BP to monopolize the North Slope by taking control of ARCO,” it read.  

The email -- titled “They have the millions … We have the truth!” -- continued by saying Knowles is “now a paid shill” for the effort to stop the repeal that’s funded largely by BP, Conoco, and Exxon.

Knowles said he hasn’t been paid by the oil industry since the late 1960s, when he was new to Alaska and worked as a young roughneck in Cook Inlet and the North Slope.

“That’s the last time I got a paycheck from the oil industry,” he said.  

The governor doesn’t have the power to give a $200 million tax deal to the industry, Knowles said.

“It’s not just that I can’t, I didn’t,” he said. As for the fund, it was created by the Democratic Party and everything was done legally and openly, Knowles said. “It was raising money for the party and had nothing to do with a secret bank account for my personal use,” Knowles said.

The apology, issued Monday, was signed by Vic Fischer, chairman of the group, as well as Jack Roderick and Chancy Croft. Fischer called Knowles an “old friend” and said his record of public service is outstanding. 

“The bottom of the email said as the Chair of the campaign, I approved the statement,” Fischer said. “But I did not see it before it was sent and would never have approved it. We have today restructured the review process of all materials developed for the campaign to assure that errors and personal attacks will not occur in the future.”

An “appalled” Fischer apologized to Knowles personally after seeing the email on Friday, Knowles said. Roderick, another old friend, also personally apologized, Knowles said.

A “young, aggressive volunteer,” wrote the statement, Presley said. That volunteer, Andrew Lessig, has been reprimanded and will no longer be able to write emails for the group, he said.

Fischer was in Homer attending an event when the email was sent, Presley said. 

“Some of us looked at it quickly (to review it) and that’s why we are owning the mistake,” Presley said, adding that he should have done a better job of fact-checking. 

“It’s not what we’re going for with this campaign,” he said. The discussion over the tax cut needs to be fact-based and civil, he said.

Knowles said he thought the email was unfortunate. “All of the discussion about this has nothing to do with the issue. People can disagree, but this is important for Alaska and we should talk about this in civil discourse on the merits.”