ExxonMobil and Hilcorp make big donations to group fighting effort to raise oil taxes

Two Alaska oil companies this week made big donations to fight a ballot measure that would boost oil production taxes, marking a sharp increase in industry spending as the measure advances toward the ballot box.

Records show ExxonMobil and Hilcorp each donated $788,626 to OneAlaska, the group organized to oppose the ballot measure.

A group called “Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share” is backing the ballot initiative, which would increase production taxes on the industry by about $1 billion annually, a jump from the $381 million in estimated payments this year.

The recent contributions from ExxonMobil and Hilcorp come atop previous contributions the companies have made in smaller amounts. As of Thursday, OneAlaska reported raising just over $2 million.

Hilcorp is moving to buy BP Alaska’s assets to become a leading oil producer in the state.

The Vote Yes group has raised $327,000, according to its latest report. Robin Brena, the group chair, has been its largest contributor. Brena is an attorney who has often challenged the state’s oil companies in court.

Until recently, the groups had so far raised and spent about the same amount.

Vote Yes in January submitted what it said was far more than the number of signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot. An ongoing state count on Thursday showed the group could soon meet the required number of 28,501 signatures to put the measure before voters.

[Group submits petition books, setting stage for costly fight over Alaska oil taxes]

Records show the Vote Yes group has spent much of its money on Texas Petition Strategies and Advanced Micro Targeting, two companies from Texas, for media and signature-gathering services.

The anti-measure group has spent $200,000 on digital ads and $75,000 on mailers with Bright Strategy & Communications, records show.

Bright Strategy is managed by Willis Lyford, a political consultant who in 2018 helped a group defeat the Stand for Salmon measure. Stand for Salmon sought to boost protections for fish habitat and was opposed by Alaska’s oil industry, which said it would hamper development.

In 2014, campaign groups supported by the oil industry raised about $15 million to successfully fend off another effort to overhaul oil taxes. The groups supporting the measure then raised less than $1 million.