The Alaska Public Offices Commission is fining Pebble mine opponent Bob Gillam's private air service $25,500 for flying anti-Pebble candidates into villages to campaign and only charging them for fuel.
APOC found the flights represented an illegal corporate campaign contribution by RBG Bush Planes LLC, which is owned by Gillam and bears his initials.
"The conduct it engaged -- giving certain candidates access to heavily subsidized transportation around a large district -- has great potential to alter the outcome of elections to the detriment of candidates not so favored, and to undermine the public's confidence in the fairness of elections," said the ruling made public Monday.
Gillam's air service gave the flights last year to Nana Kalmakoff and Michelle Ravenmoon, who were running for the Lake and Peninsula Borough Assembly. The wealthy Gillam owns a home in the borough near the Pebble mine prospect and has financed efforts to fight the mine, which he and other opponents maintain would endanger the rich salmon runs of Bristol Bay.
APOC fined Kalmakoff and Ravenmoon $6,700 apiece. But it suspended those fines and said their penalties will be dismissed entirely if they take a campaign disclosure course and repay the air service for the lowest estimated market value of the flights above what they already paid for fuel. Ravenmoon has to pay $788 and Kalmakoff $360.
APOC said it wanted to limit the fines on Ravenmoon and Kalmakoff, as they were inexperienced at dealing with the state's campaign laws and imposing too big a penalty could have a "chilling effect" on others who might run.
Art Hackney, an Anchorage media consultant who has been acting as spokesman for the anti-Pebble effort, sent out a statement saying that the ruling is flawed and RBG Bush Planes will file an appeal with the superior court.
"Under this decision, rural Alaskans will be effectively unable to campaign for local office or meet the voters unless they can raise vast sums in order to pay inflated travel costs. No longer will a candidate simply be able to accept a ride from his neighbor to the next village. In fact, this decision would appear to lead to the absurd result that no candidate for public office would be able to accept an automobile ride unless they paid the full amount of a taxi cab fare," the statement said.
RBG Bush Planes is not a commercial air service and exists to transport Gillam and anyone he designates. Gillam said the candidates were just hitching a ride on previously scheduled trips around the region being made by George Jacko, who works for Gillam as his "eyes and ears in Bristol Bay."
Jacko asked Gillam if he could bring the candidates along and Gillam, after consulting with an attorney, said it was OK as long as they paid a share of the fuel cost, according to APOC. Gillam said charging them a share of the actual costs of the trip met the "commercially reasonable" test of a 2006 APOC opinion about how much a politician has to pay for campaign travel.
APOC said that Gillam needed to consider what the market value of such flights would have been, and found that a couple legs of the trips were to pick up and drop off Kalmakoff, so she was doing more than simply hitching a ride on the plane.
The case is about two multi-day flight trips to several villages in the area in September 2010. Kalmakoff at the time paid RBG Bush Planes $1,184 in fuel reimbursement and Ravenmoon paid $351, amounts calculated by RBG.
The APOC ruling noted Gillam "is not a stranger to the commission." Gillam and two anti-Pebble groups last year agreed to a $100,000 settlement over an allegation they were hiding that Gillam was the source of about $2 million the groups spent to support that year's ballot measure attempt to block the mine.
Reach Sean Cockerham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4344.
By SEAN COCKERHAM
Anchorage Daily News
Alaska Dispatch Publishing