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Alaska News

Anonymous mailers target lawmakers who backed income tax

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published April 27, 2017

Anonymous anti-income tax fliers that were delivered across the state this week targeted Alaska House members who voted to reimpose the tax earlier this month, including Homer Republican Rep. Paul Seaton.

JUNEAU — An anonymous anti-income tax mailer was delivered across the state this week to the districts of at least four Alaska House members who voted earlier this month to reimpose the state's income tax.

The mailers used the same template for each legislator, swapping different heads onto a chubby body whose arms are grabbing dollar bills out of a purse and back pocket. The fliers attack each lawmaker, include their Juneau telephone numbers and urge recipients to call to register their displeasure with the tax proposal.

There's no "paid-for" disclosure on the mailers. That lack of disclosure is legal because the fliers don't identify a candidate or ballot measure, according to state campaign finance regulators.

Anonymous anti-income tax fliers delivered across the state this week targeted Alaska House members who voted to reimpose the income tax earlier this month, including Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Scott Kawasaki.

Bill Lethin, owner of TNT Bulk Mailing — the company that sent the fliers using its bulk mail permit — refused to say who paid for it.

"Not without a subpoena," he said. "I cannot divulge my clients without their permission."

Several campaigns have attacked the income tax proposal, but none of the people or groups behind them took responsibility for the mailers this week.

"Not from us," said Curtis Thayer, head of the Alaska Chamber of Commerce.

"Not from us," Jeremy Price, director of the Alaska branch of Americans for Prosperity, said in a text message.

He said his group is running digital ads, making phone calls and sending mail to districts of several House members who voted for the income tax, though he wouldn't say how much it was spending.

Another income tax opponent, Anchorage investor Bob Gillam, has already run newspaper and online advertisements attacking the proposal, and they've included a disclosure identifying Gillam.

An attorney at Gillam's investment firm who's acted as a spokesman, J.L. McCarrey, said he didn't know if Gillam had paid for the fliers. Art Hackney, a political consultant who's long worked with Gillam, didn't respond to requests for comment.

The mailers landed in the districts of Democratic Reps. Les Gara of Anchorage and Scott Kawasaki of Fairbanks; independent Rep. Jason Grenn of Anchorage; and Homer Republican Rep. Paul Seaton.

All are members of the House majority coalition and supported the income tax when it passed 22-17 this month.

Fliers attacking independent Rep. Dan Ortiz also arrived in Anchorage mailboxes of some relocated residents of his Ketchikan district.

Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Scott Kawasaki, left, chats with Anchorage independent Rep. Jason Grenn during a break from a February committee meeting. (Nathaniel Herz / Alaska Dispatch News)

Grenn said he had heard from nine or 10 constituents about the mailer by Wednesday afternoon. He described it in an interview as a "cowardly attack ad," "third-grade-level smear tactics" and a "scare tactic."

"It's too bad that people feel like this is how we get people engaged," he said.

The majorities in the state House and Senate are currently fighting about whether a plan to fix Alaska's deficit of nearly $3 billion should include an income tax.

The largely Democratic House majority coalition, which includes three Republicans, voted unanimously to pass the tax. They argue that by taking more from rich Alaskans, the income tax balances out reductions to the Permanent Fund dividend, which hurt poor Alaskans disproportionately.

The Senate's Republican-led majority opposes the income tax, arguing it will stifle economic growth. The Senate's deficit-reduction plan relies solely on tapping the Permanent Fund for new revenue.

The mailer implies the Permanent Fund alone could close the deficit. But instead of calling the fund by its name, the flier refers to "a huge savings account that generates interest income that can easily fund essential government services — forever."

There's no evidence printed on the flier to back up that claim, however, despite the fact state spending is currently $5 billion while sustainable Permanent Fund draws, combined with other anticipated revenue, is projected to be hundreds of millions of dollars less.

The mailer likely wasn't cheap, according to local political consultants. One said that similar types of fliers usually cost at least 50 cents apiece. Jim Lottsfeldt, an Anchorage consultant, said a broad mailing to a single House district targeting both sides of the political spectrum could cost around $10,000.

He stressed, however, he didn't know how many mailers had been sent.

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