Group seeking to link voter registration with PFD reports big donations from teachers union, DC foundation

The ballot initiative to link Alaska's voter registration system with Permanent Fund dividend applications last week collected $370,000 from a national teachers union and a Washington, D.C., foundation — money that will go toward a public education campaign leading into the November election.

Most of the money, $250,000, came from the National Education Association, according to a campaign finance report filed Monday. Another $120,000 came from New Venture Fund, a deep-pocketed Washington, D.C.-based foundation that's also donated cash to Alaska environmental organizations, according to federal tax filings.

The initiative's campaign finance report said the teachers union contribution came from NEA's Alaska branch, but officials at NEA-Alaska said the money actually was from their national affiliate in Washington, D.C., and that the report was being corrected.

"They called us and said they had some money — we were happy to head in that direction," said Tim Parker, the president of NEA's Alaska branch, which has also endorsed the initiative.

The initiative's backers also reported $24,000 in spending and debts last month on a video shoot with a Democratic media company, GMMB — the same firm that's worked with the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Another $100,000 went toward radio commercials, and the initiative supporters incurred a $25,000 debt for Facebook ads. The group has also reserved about $100,000 in ad space on Anchorage television station KTUU.

A political consultant working with the group, John-Henry Heckendorn, said supporters are beginning a "major statewide education campaign" about the initiative.


They'll be trying to explain how the initiative would work, and will attempt to avoid any confusion that could result from candidates debating the merits of Gov. Bill Walker's decision to veto a portion of residents' Permanent Fund dividend checks.

"Our polling indicates that if people understand what this does and what it doesn't do, they're going to vote for it. But there are going to be all these legislative candidates running around throwing 'raid the PFD' bombs at each other — we want to make sure that somebody doesn't go to the ballot box and see the word 'PFD' and say, 'Hell no,'" Heckendorn said in a phone interview Wednesday. "So we've been shaking the trees, saying, 'We need the resources to be able to advertise and educate.'"

The initiative, if it passes, could add as many as 70,000 new voters to the 500,000 currently on Alaska's rolls, supporters say, since about 670,000 people apply for PFDs each year.

Many of the new voters would come from "historically disenfranchised minority communities," since those communities are currently underrepresented on voter rolls, the group supporting the initiative said in a statement last month.

New Venture Fund, Heckendorn said, supports efforts to "modernize voting systems and improve access."

"This is in line with their mission," he said.

Officials at New Venture Fund didn't immediately respond to a phone message Wednesday.

Other financial backers of the initiative include oil company BP, the Tanana Chiefs Conference and several unions.

Nathaniel Herz

Anchorage-based independent journalist Nathaniel Herz has been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. Read his newsletter, Northern Journal, at natherz.substack.com