Spending in Alaska oil tax battle reaches new heights, with more than $17 million raised

The war over a citizen-led oil tax hike appears to have reached record fundraising for a ballot initiative in Alaska, with large donations from big oil companies flooding into an opposition group as the U.S. Senate race in Alaska jacks up television ad rates.

OneAlaska, the main opposition group to the proposed Fair Share act, reported on Friday raising $15.4 million in the battle so far.

Most of the opposition money has come from Alaska’s top oil producers, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Hilcorp Alaska, the three companies that would see their taxes rise under the proposed Fair Share act.

Voters will decide the measure, also called Ballot Measure 1, on Nov. 3.

ConocoPhillips and Hilcorp donated another $1.5 million to the group in recent days, according to that report, filed with state campaign regulators. ExxonMobil added another $1 million.

The group has outraised Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share by about 15 to 1. The Vote Yes initiative group has received most of its $1.1 million in donations from oil and gas attorney and initiative chair Robin Brena, according to campaign records.

[Ballot Measure 1 would change how big oil companies operate in Alaska. Here’s how.]


Brena said several hundred Alaskans have also contributed to the effort.

“I think that the Texas oil companies want to continue to pay Alaskans less than our fair share,” Brena said, referring to the lopsided spending.

He said his side hasn’t been able to afford TV ad space, and is spending money on digital and radio ads and other forms of communication.

The total fundraising by both sides, with more than one month to go before the election, appears to have outpaced any previous ballot initiative, said Willis Lyford, president of Bright Strategy and Communications.

“I would expect it would be (a record)," said Lyford, who has participated in five ballot-measure contests in Alaska since 2008, he said.

Bright Strategy is leading marketing for the opposition.

Lyford said the oil companies need to spend more because they have “the harder side of the argument.”

“They make emotional arguments," he said of the Vote Yes group. “We have to make rational arguments.”

The race between Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan and Al Gross, a Democratic-nominated independent, has heated up over the last 10 days or so, said Lyford.

That has reduced TV ad space, dramatically boosting television ad costs for independent expenditure groups like OneAlaska, Lyford said.

The situation is increasingly reminiscent of 2014, Lyford said. That year, Sullivan removed Democratic incumbent Mark Begich from office in a nationally watched Senate race that drew unprecedented spending for an Alaska race.

In August of that year, the oil industry led opposition spending to fend off a citizen-led effort to repeal Senate Bill 21, the oil production tax law the new Vote Yes group wants to amend.

That battle in 2014 cost slightly over $15 million.

OneAlaska isn’t the only group fighting the tax hike. In recent weeks, the Alaska Chamber has raised $2 million to oppose the Fair Share proposal, all but $500 of it from ConocoPhillips and Hilcorp Alaska.

The Fair Share proposal, if it had been in place from 2015 to 2019, would have raised an extra $1.1 billion annually in production taxes, on average, from the three top producers.

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