Abortion initiative attracts big donations on both sides

Patti Epler

0728kocvppIt's the Catholic Church vs. Planned Parenthood when it comes to the political battle being waged over a ballot measure that would require parental notification before a girl under the age of 18 could get an abortion.

Campaign finance disclosure statements filed this week with the Alaska Public Offices Commission show more than half the money donated to the group opposing the ballot Measure 2, Alaskans Against Government Mandates, has come from Planned Parenthood chapters. More than a third of the cash donated to the group backing the initiative, Alaskans For Parental Rights, has come from the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal order of the Catholic Church.

The measure would change state law to require that, unless there's parental consent, a doctor notify a parent at least 48 hours before performing an abortion if the girl is under 18. The girl could seek a court waiver or submit a notarized statement alleging abuse to avoid the parental notification requirement.

Opponents contend that girls too often cannot seek permission or guidance from their parents because they are in abusive households or there are other circumstances that make it unreasonable for parental consent. But backers say those cases are few and that parents should have the right to be involved in major health care decisions by their minor daughters.

An ongoing battle over consent

Planned Parenthood groups have been fighting similar ballot measures in recent years, and the organization is bringing its political experience -- and financial resources -- to bear in Alaska. Alaskans Against Government Mandates reported total contributions of $745,383, with more than $400,000 of that coming from western regional Planned Parenthood groups, primarily Planned Parenthood of the Greater Northwest. Groups from Washington, Idaho and California have also chipped in.

Rhiannon Good, the No on 2 campaign manager, says she is a veteran of three initiative attempts in California in recent years, running field operations in Riverside and San Diego counties. She came to Anchorage to direct the opposition to this effort.

Good dismisses criticism that her group is simply the creation of big-money Outside political interests with no stake in Alaska. "We're really pleased to have the support around the country," she said, "especially from Planned Parenthood groups who have already faced this issue."

Besides the Planned Parenthood groups, Alaskans Against Government Mandates has collected about $80,000 from Alaska donors including the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, Alaska Public Health Association and Robin Smith, an Anchorage resident.

Jim Minnery, chairman of Alaskans for Parental Rights and president of the conservative Alaska Family Council, predicted earlier this week that, when the finance reports were filed, "we'll have hundreds and hundreds of small donations from Alaskans and they'll have a couple of large donors."

He was somewhat correct. His group did report more than 200 contributions for this reporting period, which began Feb. 2 and ended Monday. Many of the contributions came from conservative politicians and activists, like Gov. Sean Parnell and his wife Sandy, who gave $200, and gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker and his wife Donna, who gave $3,250. U.S. Rep. Don Young chipped in $100. GOP lieutenant governor candidates also are on the list: Jay Ramras gave $255 and Mead Treadwell is one of the group's single biggest donors at $6,200. A Harvard, Mass. donor, Sean McLaughlin, gave $5,000.

But much of the group's money has come from a single source, the Anchorage Knights of Columbus. The Catholic men's organization gave $30,000 to the campaign in recent months.

Minnery conceded that Alaska politics often are paid for by Outside money. "There's not really anything wrong with that because that's what happens up here," he said. "But they outspend us 10 to one on media and then absolutely refuse to debate us. So they throw these bombs from the airwaves and then run away."

Pre-election media blitz

Good said her group thinks it's important to get its message out, and with so little time before the Aug. 24 primary, TV spots are critical. She said the group plans to "stay up on the air and keep talking to people about the initiative."

The No on 2 radio and website ads drew a complaint from the Alaska Public Offices Commission late last week and a separate challenge from the parental rights group. Both the state and initiative backers said Alaskans Against Government Mandates had failed to disclose its top three contributors in the ads, as required by state law. A hearing on the complaint by the parental rights group had been set for Wednesday but was vacated after both sides agreed the problem had been taken care of -- the ads and website now list the top three contributors. But the APOC complaint is still pending, APOC executive director Holly Hill said.

According to the campaign finance disclosure report and records on file with local TV stations, Alaskans Against Government Mandates is buying as much pre-primary air time as just about anyone, rivaling U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who's running for re-election, and Ramras, the lieutenant governor candidate from Fairbanks, as the biggest media buyers -- at least in the Anchorage market.

The APOC reports filed Monday show about $290,000 in media buys for Alaskans Against Government Mandates, compared to about $9,200 for Alaskans for Parental Rights.

The No on 2 group also has spent about $127,000 on political consultants, primarily the Dewey Square Group from Charlotte, North Carolina. The Yes on 2 group has invested about $6,000 in a political consultant, Mike Pauley of Kennewick, Wash., and paid Anchorage pollster Dave Dittman another $13,000 for his services.

Alaskans Against Government Mandates also reported spending about $7,600 on apartment rent for three months for Good, who recently arrived from California, as well as another $2,200 on a rental car and car insurance for her, the report shows.

Good said she's actually moved her family up here and her son is enrolled in a local school. Whether she'll be staying past the Aug. 24 primary remains to be seen, she said.

"They hired me to run the campaign and I'm not sure what's happening after," she said. "I know I won't be working for the campaign."

Contact Patti Epler at patti(at)alaskadispatch.com.