Spending over the citizen-led ballot measure to increase oil taxes in Alaska has surged past $25 million, crushing a 2014 record as oil companies back opposition efforts and Alaska’s U.S. Senate race boosts advertising costs.
Alaska’s three leading oil companies — ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Hilcorp — as well as BP, which is working to sell its Alaska assets to Hilcorp, have directly contributed about 95% of the $24 million raised by the opposition groups to Ballot Measure 1, according to campaign disclosure reports filed this week with state regulators.
The opposition groups, led by OneAlaska — Vote No on One, have raised about 16 times more than the $1.5 million raised and spent by the proponents, Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share.
“Any industry that would be under attack from a massive tax increase of 150% to 300% would need to educate Alaskans and get its message out,” said Kara Moriarty, campaign manager for OneAlaska.
Campaign disclosures show that about $1.2 million of the contributions to Vote Yes, or about 80%, have come from chair Robin Brena, a longtime oil and gas attorney. Hundreds of Alaskans have rounded out the group’s funding with small donations.
“It costs over $25 million if you’re going to gaslight all of Alaska," Brena said.
Brena said Vote Yes can’t afford to poll frequently, but said all the spending by the oil companies is not helping his side. He called the contest a “darn good horse race.”
Both sides said they have a diverse group of supporters.
The campaign groups this week filed their last full disclosure reports with the Alaska Public Offices Commission before the election on Nov. 3. Early voting at select sites and by absentee ballot is underway.
More spending could yet occur in the final days of the campaign.
The battle has crushed the roughly $15 million in spending in 2014, the previous record for a ballot measure according to people familiar with campaigns in Alaska, when voters rejected a citizen-led effort to repeal the oil production tax law, Senate Bill 21.
Ad costs in 2014 and today were inflated by a U.S. Senate race that drew large amounts of Outside money, Moriarty said.
Six years ago, Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan defeated Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. This year, Sullivan faces a closely watched race against Al Gross, the Democratic-nominated independent candidate.
“Part of the costs are natural inflation, but the other part is this extreme ad inflation we have seen in the last six to eight weeks with the explosion of the Senate campaign,” Moriarty said.
The two-page Fair Share proposal seeks to change Senate Bill 21, raising production taxes on ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Hilcorp, the top oil producers in Alaska. BP has contributed more than $4 million to the opposition, in an effort to support its industry peers, the company has said.
OneAlaska’s latest report, filed on Tuesday, shows that it has raised $20.8 million. It has reported spending $19 million.
A second opposition group, the Alaska Chamber, has reported raising $3.1 million. It has reported spending about $2 million.
We Are Alaska, an opposition group organized by officials with the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, has reported raising and spending about $15,000 to oppose the measure.
Funding from BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Hilcorp could have indirectly gone to the opposition effort as well.
The companies, along with 10 other companies, are members of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, the industry’s trade group in Alaska.
AOGA has contributed more than $800,000 to OneAlaska, although $500,000 of that was a loan for a media buy, disclosure records show.
The loan has been paid back, said Moriarty, also the president of AOGA.
Those contributions to OneAlaska came from AOGA’s general fund, which is supported with funding from AOGA’s 14 members, she said.
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that a large part of the contribution from AOGA to OneAlaska was a loan that has been repaid.