Bob Gillam, a wealthy Alaska opponent of the Pebble copper and gold mine, gave $250,000 to the Trump Victory Committee six weeks after the administration unexpectedly supported Obama-era conservation limits on the mine this spring, raising questions about Gillam's influence on the public process.
But an attorney for Gillam's investment firm said there is no connection between the January decision by Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency administrator, and Gillam's donation to the Trump Victory fund in March.
It is "absurd" to suggest the donation was improperly connected to Pruitt's decision retaining the proposed limits, said JL McCarrey, general counsel for McKinley Capital Management, in an emailed statement. He said Gillam supports many of the president's economic policies.
Forrest Nabors, chairman of the University of Alaska Anchorage's political science department, said the EPA has had too heavy a hand in the fate of Pebble, leaving the agency open to influence by a single individual such as Gillam.
"Bob Gillam knows that and put his money where his mouth is," Nabors said. "But this is the way the system is, so I can't blame Bob Gillam for playing by the current rules."
Gillam's donation was reported by ABC News on Saturday.
On Sept. 15, Gillam also donated $50,000 to the Trump Victory fund, plus $5,400 to Donald J. Trump for President, according to the Federal Election Commission. In March 2017, he gave more than $120,000 to the Republican National Committee.
Gillam's March 9 donation was a major contribution to the Trump Victory fund, according to the fund's first quarter report for 2018.
Over the years, Gillam has contributed millions of dollars toward efforts to stop the proposed mine, including supporting local and statewide ballot measures to make the project more difficult to develop.
In January, the Environmental Protection Agency kept alive proposed development limits on the Southwest Alaska prospect, restrictions developed under President Barack Obama in 2014, despite expectations that the agency would change course.
Pruitt made the decision after receiving public comments about the mine, and said he was concerned about the possible risks of mining to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery.
Mike Heatwole, a spokesman with Pebble Limited Partnership, the proposed mine developer, said on Monday the company has not seen evidence Gillam was a factor in the EPA move.
"We've seen no indication he was involved" in the EPA decision, Heatwole said.
Pebble Limited in December applied with the federal government to develop the mine. The EPA's proposed development limits can be withdrawn in the future, or retained, the agency has said.
McCarrey, the attorney for Gillam's company, said Gillam is "absolutely not" trying to influence the Trump administration to receive favorable actions regarding Pebble.
Gillam and Trump were classmates at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where they graduated in 1968. In 2016, Gillam took steps to become Trump's Interior secretary, but that job went to Ryan Zinke.
"Throughout his life, Mr. Gillam has generously assisted and contributed funds to many individuals, causes, charitable entities and political parties," McCarrey said. "The contribution referenced in this particular article was made in response to a request from the Republican National Committee."
Gillam is a "committed supporter" of many economic policies advanced by the president, McCarrey said.
The ABC News article was flawed, McCarrey said. But it got Gillam's stance on Pebble right.
"(Gillam) remains strongly opposed to development of the Pebble Mine; it is the wrong mine, in the wrong place, and threatens Bristol Bay, its people, their heritage, and the last great salmon fishery on the planet," McCarrey said.