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Major Anchorage businesses come out against Prop. 1 as out-of-state money pours in

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: March 9, 2018
  • Published March 7, 2018

A group of prominent corporations and businesses have announced opposition to Anchorage's Proposition 1, a ballot initiative that would rescind protections for transgender people when it comes to restrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms.

Oil and gas giant BP, the financial institution Wells Fargo, the tourism bureau Visit Anchorage and the owners of the BearTooth Theatrepub were among several dozen listed in an "Anchorage Business Against Prop. 1" coalition announced Wednesday. Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, who also opposes the proposition, is a part-owner in three of the restaurants that are part of the coalition as well: South, Snow City Cafe and Spenard Roadhouse.

"As business owners, we are concerned that this proposition, if approved, would result in significant negative publicity for our city and harm our economy," John Kauffman, an attorney at the law firm Stoel Rives in Anchorage, said in a statement. "As lawyers, we are concerned about enacting such an ambiguously written law of questionable enforceability that has no reasonable justification."

Jim Minnery, the executive director of the socially conservative advocacy organization Alaska Family Action, the main group organizing in support of Prop. 1, could not be reached immediately on Wednesday, but in recent emails to supporters refuted claims of economic harm. In a February email, Minnery accused Anchorage's business community of caving to a special-interest group.

"LGBTQ activists have used bullying and blackmail tactics to strong-arm corporate America," Minnery wrote.

He has also said businesses should be able to set their own policies about facilities open to the public. Prop. 1, if passed, would require people to use restrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms that correspond with their sex at birth.

The announcement from some of the state's largest employers comes less than a week before Anchorage voters start casting ballots. The city is preparing to hold its first-ever mail-ballot election.

Ballots are mailed to registered voters next Tuesday. The ballots must be marked, signed and either mailed with a stamp, dropped off in a secure dropbox or taken to an accessible vote center by the end of Election Day on April 3.

Election strategists predicted a blitz of activity from campaigns close to the start of voting.

The business announcement is coordinated with an extensive campaign to defeat Prop. 1. Records show it's the largest purse in this year's local election — far bigger than the mayoral races — and amounts to a fundraising advantage over the campaign to pass Prop. 1.

The anti-Prop. 1 campaign has also drawn a number of big donations from outside Alaska. State campaign finance law allows unlimited donations to ballot initiative groups.

The most recent campaign finance report filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission shows that between in-kind donations and cash, the anti-Prop. 1 campaign, Fair Anchorage, has raised nearly half a million dollars.

The New-York based national branch of the American Civil Liberties Union gave $50,000 to the Fair Anchorage campaign, the campaign finance reports show.

A Washington D.C.-based national task force on LGBT issues gave $10,000, as well as James Hormel, a philanthropist and LGBT activist who was the first openly gay person to serve as a U.S. ambassador.

Weston Milliken — one of the sons of a South Carolina textile billionaire and a member of the Democracy Alliance, a well-heeled left-leaning donor club — gave $10,000.

A church in Fairbanks gave $917. There were also plenty of smaller donations between $5 and $25 from people in Anchorage and Washington state, as well as other states.

The reports show that the Fair Anchorage campaign had spent $110,000 on TV and radio advertising. Overall, the campaign had spent the majority of money it has raised so far in time for the start of voting.

The spending far outstripped what has been raised by the supporters of Prop. 1, which Minnery and his wife, Kim Minnery, had predicted.

About 60 percent of the campaign's nearly $50,000 came from the Minnery's organization, Alaska Family Action.

The next-largest donation, of $10,000, came from the Family Policy Alliance, an organization in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The American Family Association in Tupelo, Mississippi, which described itself as a pro-family policy organization, gave $2,000.

A handful of other individual donations came from the Anchorage area in the latest report, with one donation from Barrow. The "Yes on 1" campaign had spent about $5,000 on ads.

The support from prominent businesses could aid the visibility of the "No on 1" campaign. The Anchorage Economic Development Corp. and the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce announced opposition to the proposition last month.

In recent emails to supporters, Minnery has listed the names and companies of AEDC and Anchorage Chamber of Commerce board members and suggested people reconsider shopping there.

Note: This article has been edited to reflect that Alaska Family Action supports, not opposes, Proposition 1. Also, due to inaccurate information provided by the Fair Anchorage campaign, a previous version of this story incorrectly reported that ConocoPhillips is one of the businesses opposing Prop. 1.  Scott Jepsen, a spokesman for ConocoPhillips, said the company has not taken a position.  A previous version of this story also misspelled the name of the law firm Stoel Rives. 

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