Energy

Business groups sue oil-tax initiative backers, claiming they collected invalid signatures

Several business advocacy groups on Friday filed a lawsuit against state election officials and a ballot group trying to raise oil taxes in Alaska, claiming many of the signatures gathered by the group are invalid and should be tossed out.

The Resource Development Council for Alaska, the Alaska Chamber and four other groups argue that signature gatherers in some cases were paid more than $1 a signature while working for “Vote Yes For Alaska’s Fair Share," a violation of state law, according to the nine-page complaint.

Robin Brena, an oil and gas attorney and chair of the ballot group, said Friday that the ballot group denies the allegations in the complaint.

“The plaintiffs apparently agree Alaskans will vote in favor of the Fair Share Act this fall and have filed a lawsuit to prevent Alaskans from voting on it,” Brena said.

“It is not surprising in the least to see the surrogates for the international oil producers standing against Alaskans getting back a fair share of our oil or standing against Alaskans right to vote on it,” he said in a statement.

The complaint names the ballot group as a defendant, along with Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, the state Division of Elections, and its director Gail Fenumiai.

A state count shows the group collected more than 39,000 qualifying signatures, exceeding the 28,501 needed to put the measure before voters. Meyer, who oversees the election division, notified the group in March that the measure was properly filed.

[Group forms to fight Alaska oil tax initiative]

But the complaint says many of the signatures were collected by individuals working for Las Vegas-based Advanced Micro Targeting, a signature gathering company hired by the Vote Yes group.

“Advanced Micro Targeting offered to pay an amount that is greater than $1 per signature for the collection of signatures on a petition by advertising that it would pay signature gatherers $3,500-$4,000 per month plus bonus, and that it expected 80-100 signatures per day, six days per week in return for such compensation,” the complaint says.

“What we know from AMT employment offers, their intention was to violate the statute,” said Matt Singer, attorney for the pro-business groups. “We’ll conduct discovery to determine the extent of the illegality.”

The proposed Fair Share Act is expected to raise oil production taxes by about $1 billion annually. The industry this year is expected to pay $268 million in those taxes, the state has estimated.

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Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or alex@adn.com.

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