An opposition group to a citizen-led measure to boost oil production taxes won a first-round fight on Wednesday, allowing it to continue running ads saying that its main oil company donors are from “Anchorage, Alaska," rather than from Outside, through election day.
The decision by Alaska Public Offices Commission "makes it clear the commission did not fall for this eleventh-hour political stunt by the Vote Yes campaign,” said Kara Moriarty, campaign manager for OneAlaska, in a statement late Wednesday.
“Not only that, the commission was not persuaded by the false claim that our campaign did anything to mislead voters," she said.
Former Democratic state Rep. Les Gara had filed a complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission arguing that OneAlaska ads violate state law and are misleading because they do not properly list the principal place of business for BP Alaska, ConocoPhillips Alaska, ExxonMobil and Hilcorp.
Gara helped write the “right to know” law and is a member of the steering committee of Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share, the group behind the two-page ballot measure that would boost taxes on Alaska’s leading oil producers, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Hilcorp.
Gara said the ads should have listed the principal place of business as London for BP and Texas cities for ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Hilcorp. Moriarty said the ads are legal because the law requires the listing of a company’s principal place of business, not its parent company headquarters.
“I just think it’s important for people to know this money is from Texas and London,” Gara said. "We will find out if the law requires them to reveal that, but they are pretending that Outside corporations are local corporations. "
The five-member commission unanimously rejected Gara’s request for an expedited hearing on the matter, said Heather Hebdon, the commission’s director.
Receiving an expedited hearing is a “steep hurdle” that must meet three requirements, Hebdon said, including that the alleged violation could materially affect the outcome of the election.
The commission found it did not meet any of those requirements, according to a three-page decision issued Thursday afternoon.
The commission said it does not believe a violation, if there is one, will materially affect the election or cause irreparable harm, the decision said.
Most Alaskans know the oil companies are multinational entities and will not be misled by the statements, if they are in fact inaccurate, the commission said.
APOC staff will review the matter and could conclude a violation occurred, but the commission currently lacks information showing there is reasonable cause that a violation is occurring, the decision said.
The complaint won’t receive a hearing until after the election, Hebdon said.
Election Day is Nov. 3, but absentee and early voting are underway. The complaint may not be heard until January, Hebdon said.
ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Hilcorp are the leading donors to OneAlaska and another opposition group, Alaska Chamber. Together, the groups have raised more than $20 million, several times more than the Vote Yes group and a record amount for any side of a ballot measure in Alaska, political observers say.
Including BP, the four oil companies have provided the vast majority of contributions to the two opposition groups. BP is trying to complete the sale of its Alaska assets to Hilcorp.