Alaska: Oil industry spends $1 million against referendum

Pipelines run from one BP's facility at the Prudhoe Bay oil field on Alaska's North Slope. (Al Grillo / AP)
Pipelines run from one BP’s facility at the Prudhoe Bay oil field on Alaska’s North Slope. (Al Grillo / AP)

Two years ago, oil companies spent over a million dollars to defeat an initiative that would have revived Alaska’s coastal management program. They’re on track to spend even more this election cycle to protect the new tax system they lobbied for. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that contributions to a group committed to that goal are already rolling in.

Vote No on 1 registered as a political group in October, and already they’ve broken the million-dollar mark. They’ve taken in $350,000 from BP, another $350,000 from ConocoPhillips, $250,000 from Repsol, and nearly $100,000 from Pioneer Natural Resources.

“It’s probably no surprise that the oil producers have stepped up to help advance awareness of that issue,” says Willis Lyford, campaign director for Vote No on 1 and vice president of Porcaro Communications.

Vote No on 1 is fighting back against an effort to repeal the oil tax law that was passed this spring, which caps the tax rate at 35 percent per barrel. When the group went public, their press release described them as a “statewide leadership team representing business, organized labor and community leaders.” But their funding base is not so diverse. The Alaska Public Offices Commission requires any donation made to a political group that’s over $500 to be reported, and so far every Vote No on 1 filing comes from an oil industry group.

Lyford says at this point, the support he’s gotten from outside of the industry has come in the form of endorsements. He expects financial backing from other sources to come later.

“I mean we will do that,” says Lyford. “We haven’t gotten to that point yet. We’ve been up and operating for just about 60 days. So, we’re a little bit in an organizational phase, but that will be part of our outreach is to raise money outside of the oil industry.”

Supporting Vote No on 1

In an e-mailed statement, a ConocoPhillips spokesperson wrote that the company is supporting Vote No on 1 because they want to help the electorate make an “informed decision.” BP offered a similar position. Neither company shared specific plans to give more.

Repsol’s quarter-million-dollar contribution is a little less expected. The Spanish oil company is not one of the Big Three producers that have long influenced state policy.

Trish Baker, a public affairs manager for the company, says they’re committed to working in the state and their contribution to Vote No on 1 shows that.

“Repsol’s very serious about wanting to operate in Alaska. We very much want to be here for the long haul,” says Baker.

Repsol is only in the exploration phase right now. They acquired their leases on the North Slope in 2011, when the state was under the previous fiscal structure. In the past year, Repsol’s become a more vocal supporter of the new tax system.

“This is a critical vote for us, and it may make a difference whether we can go forward or not,” says Baker.

Whether it’s from Repsol, Conoco, BP, or another oil company, the citizen’s group that filed the referendum expects the money to keep on pouring in.

“The oil companies are benefitting from the oil tax repeal probably to the billions of dollars, so I won’t be surprised if they invest millions of dollars to try and defeat the referendum,” says Vic Fischer, a sponsor of Vote Yes! Repeal the Oil Giveaway and a delegate to Alaska’s constitutional convention.

Vote Yes! focuses on organizing

Vote Yes! Repeal the Giveaway is not nearly as well financed as the Vote No group. They’ve raised about $90,000 this year — mostly from small contributions – and spent a lot of it during the signature-gathering part of their campaign.

Fischer says his group is focusing more on organizing at a grassroots level than trying to compete in an expensive advertising campaign. They’ll keep reaching out to individual donors, but they’re not anticipating any six-figure checks.

“We’ll be doing all the fundraising we can. It won’t be at the massive scale that the oil companies have already given. But we will get what contribution we can from the people, and we’ll use that to get our message across.”

The referendum is scheduled to be on the August primary ballot.

The most expensive ballot campaign in state history took place in 2008, when supporters and opponents of the Alaska Clean Water Initiative spent more than $10 million on advertising.


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