Perhaps the most troubling bit of flotsam to wash up in the storm over Ballot Measure 1 is the claim that boatloads of dark money are being poured into the fray by its mostly green, Outside supporters, and the stunning lack of transparency.
It serves as a reminder of the danger in settling complex public policy issues by ballot initiatives — something all the rage among the uninformed who believe direct democracy a panacea for our political ills. Initiatives allow easy "yes" or "no" answers to complicated questions rather than having them addressed through a reasoned, thorough legislative process.
On its face, the measure appears little more than a quick way to kill Alaska's huge, vital economy by regulating it to death — all in the name of protecting salmon that may, or may not, need more protection by regulations that may, or may not, work. Like most initiatives, this one — surprise! — serves Outside anti-development interests.
With the Nov. 6 election looming, the Alaska Public Offices Commission is mulling a complaint by Ballot Measure 1 opponents — Stand for Alaska Vote No on One — which is enlightening. It accuses measure supporter Stand for Salmon of creating Yes for Salmon "as a shell that other entities could fill in and control without having to disclose the source of their funding."
In essence, the claim is that a labyrinth of Outside foundations, nonprofits, environmental groups and anti-development entities funneled cash, time, space, personnel and equipment to Yes for Salmon — with no staff or personnel of its own — to hide the original sources of funding. That, opponents say, violates the law.
"The Commission should disallow the respondents' campaign structure because it will be the roadmap for future ballot campaigns to circumvent disclosing their source of funding to Alaska voters," the complaint states.
The initiative backers' response? The complaint is a "litany of false and misleading claims. …"
The Alaska Policy Forum, in a bit of laudable reporting, says the lengthy list of entities involved in the initiative effort includes the $350 million, Washington, D.C.-based New Venture Fund, which opposes resource development and "exists almost exclusively to provide a way for large foundations and billionaires to shape state and local policy by funding and directing local groups to do their bidding."
It should be noted that Stand for Salmon's campaign director, Ryan Schryver, testified during a hearing on the complaint that he is paid by the New Venture Fund.
Other ballot measure supporters include the cash-cow Hewlett Fund, "known for its extreme eco-activism such as promoting population control as a means of curbing carbon output…," the Policy Forum reports.
The New Venture Fund and the Hewlett Fund are only two of the Outside foundations and groups that have linked up by sharing money, staff or directors to wage the Ballot Measure 1 battle mostly in the dark.
To give the effort a smidgen of Alaska flavor, backers also include the Alaska Conservation Foundation, the Alaska Center, Cook Inletkeeper, the Wild Salmon Center, Salmon State and Trustees for Alaska.
Even if you close one eye and squint, Stand for Salmon looks like just another convenient back door for moneyed, left-leaning, anti-development interests to push their aims outside the Legislature. No pesky checks and balances. No fuss and muss of an unpredictable legislative process. No vetting. No oversight. No public hearings. Certainly no discussion of consequences or public input ahead of only a few individuals putting the initiative together. Just take it or leave it. A lousy way to make law.
As a means of bypassing legislatures, the initiative process, an unfortunate contrivance of the Progressive Era, amounts to little more than bloodless mob rule or the tyranny of the majority so feared by this nation's Founding Fathers.
The late Washington Post columnist David Broder certainly was no fan. In "Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money," he wrote:
"Exploiting the public's disdain for politics and distrust of politicians, it is now the most uncontrolled and unexamined arena of power politics. It has given the United States something that seems unthinkable — not a government of laws but laws without government."
Broder was absolutely correct, and Ballot Measure 1 would do just that. The place to re-engineer government is in the legislative process, complete with its politics, its vagaries, its frustrating, grindingly slow pace, its humdrum hearings and interminable tinkering. All that allows the time and opportunity to get it right.
Ballot Measure 1 was subject to none of that before joining the ever-lengthening list of ballot measures foisted on the state by powerful Outside interests.
Given the questions about dark money and the true intentions of its backers — not to mention the measure's possible dire consequences if passed — Alaskans should send Ballot Measure 1 to where it belongs: Davey Jones' Locker.
Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com, a division of Porcaro Communications.
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