Tribal-recognition ballot measure gets $250,000 donation from dark-money group

A Washington, D.C.-based dark money group has donated $250,000 to supporters of a new tribal-recognition ballot measure as backers prepare to gather signatures.

According to a disclosure document filed Saturday, the Sixteen Thirty Fund made the donation to Alaskans for Better Government on Oct. 13.

“My understanding is that it’s a group that represents folks who want to donate to causes they believe in,” said Richard Peterson, chair of Alaskans for Better Government.

His group is seeking signatures for a 2022 ballot measure that would require the state of Alaska to recognize the state’s 229 federally recognized tribes. A law to do so has passed the state House but has stalled in the Senate.

The Sixteen Thirty Fund’s donation is notable because it’s one of the first major contributions by a dark-money group since the passage of Ballot Measure 2 last year. That measure requires third-party groups to disclose the “true source” of their funding if they donate to a candidate.

The measure didn’t impose that requirement on ballot measures, which makes it difficult to identify the source of the donation. In national politics — and increasingly in Alaska politics as well — wealthy donors will contribute to a nonprofit that then makes political donations, concealing the true source. This has been nicknamed dark money.

Two years ago, Politico identified the Sixteen Thirty Fund as the source of more than $141 million in donations to left-leaning causes in the national 2018 midterm elections. Subsequent reporting by The New York Times traced some of those contributions to the Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss.

Asked why it donated to the Alaska ballot measure and how the donation came about, the group responded by email, saying, “The Sixteen Thirty Fund supports initiatives that strengthen our democracy. We believe the recognition of Alaska Native Tribes and all Indigenous people is an important step forward in strengthening democracy in Alaska and our nation as a whole.”

Alex Murphy, a deputy treasurer for the ballot measure group and head of operations at the political consulting firm Ship Creek Group, said backers “cast a wide net to potential supporters of the campaign and were thrilled that the Sixteen Thirty Fund saw the importance of recognizing Alaska Native Tribes.”

”We’re thankful to all of our donors and look forward to fully complying with all of Alaska’s ballot and campaign finance laws,” Murphy said.

Financial disclosure documents indicate the donation may be used to pay Advanced MicroTargeting, a consulting firm also hired by campaigns ahead of the 2020 election.

Supporters of the tribal-recognition measure need to gather 36,140 signatures from registered voters by Jan. 18 in order to call a vote in 2022. State law requires those signatures to come from a variety of places throughout the state.

If backers gather enough signatures and the Alaska Division of Elections verifies those signatures, a vote could take place in either the August primary or the November general election, depending on the length of next year’s legislative session.