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Industry-backed group alleges Outside ‘dark money’ helps salmon ballot measure

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: September 21, 2018
  • Published September 20, 2018

The industry-backed organization fighting a salmon-protection ballot measure asserted to Alaska campaign regulators on Thursday that its opponents are illegally benefiting from "dark money" originating from organizations outside the state.

The newly filed complaint from Stand for Alaska-Vote No on One argues that three groups involved in the campaign, including campaign group Yes for Salmon-Vote Yes on One, have violated multiple disclosure laws.

The measure — officially called Ballot Measure 1 — would strengthen habitat-protection measures for salmon and other fish. It goes before voters in the Nov. 6 general election.

Ryan Schryver, director of the campaign to protect salmon, said he's confident the commission will dismiss the accusations.

"The entire thing reeks of desperation on the part of our opponents," he said.

"They've spent millions of dollars trying to mislead Alaskans about the ballot initiative," he said. "Alaskans aren't being fooled by their expensive ad campaign so now they're trying to tarnish our image."

The complaint also names The Alaska Center, the primary contributor to Yes for Salmon through nonmonetary contributions such as door-knocking, as well as Stand for Salmon, an entity spending money on communications in support of the campaign.

The complaint says the groups have "failed to report the true source of the dark money they have received from Lower 48 nonprofit entities that are used to launder large Outside donations" flowing into the campaign.

That includes $50,000 from the Tides Advocacy Fund in San Francisco, a nonprofit organization, provided to The Alaska Center in July. The center does not disclose who gave that money to the Tides Advocacy Fund. The center also does not disclose the original source of contributions, worth tens of thousands of dollars, it has received numerous times from other groups outside Alaska, the complaint says.

The complaint says Alaskans have the right to know who is paying for the political efforts that seek to make sweeping changes to Alaska law if the measure passes.

"Transparency is supposed to be a cornerstone of Alaska' campaign finance laws, but the center is keeping its contributors in the dark," the statement says.

Megan Cavanaugh, political and field director for The Alaska Center, said the center has been working diligently with the commission to ensure it's complying with all elections laws.

"We believe strongly in transparency in all elections," she said in an emailed statement.

Opponents have argued the measure will stop development projects across Alaska. Supporters say it will protect salmon and other fish without hurting the economy.

Stand for Alaska has received more than $10 million in contributions, with most of the money from oil and mining companies with operations in Alaska but headquarters outside the state. Stand for Salmon reports receiving $1.1 million in donations, primarily from nonprofit groups, some in Alaska, some Outside.

APOC recently fined Stand for Alaska $1,925, for violating requirements associated with initially using a name that did not clearly show opposition to the ballot measure. Stand for Alaska's complaint shoots back with a similar charge, saying Yes for Salmon failed to include a reference to the measure in its name until Aug. 15.

Stand for Alaska alleges the groups also violated Alaska law in other ways:

• The Alaska Center, which has reported non-monetary contributions of about $500,000 to the campaign, has not revealed the source of $267,000 it has spent in support of the campaign.

• Stand for Salmon has spent $423,000 to support the ballot measure, but has not disclosed the source of $242,000 in contributions.

• The groups have actively coordinated the campaign from The Alaska Center's downtown offices, while two of the groups – Yes for Salmon and Stand for Salmon – share leadership, said Matt Singer, an attorney with Holland and Knight representing the complainant.

"It seems to be a shell game," Singer said.

They need to register as one group so Alaskans don't have to comb through three disclosures and stop carrying on with "the charade they are separate and independent," Singer said.

Schryver, on the board for both Stand for Salmon and Yes for Salmon, said the two groups are separate organizations. Stand for Salmon is a nonprofit entity that will exist beyond the election. Yes for Salmon is a ballot group existing solely to promote the initiative.

"While there may be overlap in terms of their sponsors and board of directors, they are separate entities in the eyes of APOC and in terms of how they interact with the world around them," he said.

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