A recent settlement between the Alaska Public Offices Commission and anti-Pebble campaigners has incited passionate responses from groups on both sides of the issue.
The Renewable Resources Coalition, Alaskans for Clean Water, and Robert Gillam agreed Feb. 26, by way of a consent decree, to pay the State of Alaska US$100,000 for alleged violations committed while campaigning for approval of an anti-mining initiative known as Ballot Measure 4 during the 2008 Alaska primary election.
The inquiry by the public campaigns watchdog group stemmed from a complaint filed in March 2009 by the Resource Development Council of Alaska and the Pebble Partnership, a 50-50 joint venture of mining companies Northern Dynasty Minerals Inc. and AngloGold PLC., aimed at developing a gigantic mineral resource known as the Pebble deposit located about 240 miles, or 385 kilometers, west of Anchorage.
The RDC and the mining partnership accused the two citizen groups, Gillam, and a third organization called Americans for Job Security of committing 18 campaign violations during the primary election.
Supporters of the Pebble copper-gold-molybdenum project, situated inland between Cook Inlet and Bristol Bay in Southwest Alaska, say the agreement and payment amount to a slap on the wrist and will allow the pro-Ballot Measure 4 campaigners to get away with illegal activities.
The three groups and Gillam counter they have a strong case to prove that they acted within the law and that the contributions they made in support of the ballot measure were legal; moreover, they point out that the settlement puts an end to expensive litigation.
Six-figure settlementThe amount of the settlement payment also was a source of contention. The APOC staff felt the amount needed to be US$100,000. The groups opposed to building a mine to develop Pebble argued that US$60,000 was plenty, while pro-development groups contended that US$100,000 did not go far enough.
In their brief to the Commission, staff members wrote, “Given the large sums of money involved, a fine of only US$60,000 would not provide sufficient deterrence to these particular respondents…”
It fell to the Alaska Public Offices Commission to determine the appropriate amount and the commission accepted the staff’s recommendation that the payment should be US$100,000.
The Pebble foes agreed to pay the fee, thereby ending the year-long investigation.
Resource development proponents in Alaska felt the payment fell short of ensuring that future campaigners would not just earmark funds for a settlement payment while drafting their campaign budgets.
“With this ruling, it sets the precedent for future campaigns to simply budget 1 to 2 percent into their races for post-election fines as a cost of doing business. We are very disappointed with the actions of the APOC commissioners,” RDC Executive Director Jason Brune said.
During a March 10 luncheon at the Arctic International Mining Symposium in Fairbanks, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell was asked whether or not the six-figure settlement would prevent future campaigners from violating the law.
“I think it would deter those who think $100,000 is a lot of money; and to those who it’s not, it probably won’t,” the governor answered.
No admission of guiltPebble supporters felt there was strong evidence of campaign violations and expressed disappointment that the settlement fell short of obtaining an admission of guilt.
“Despite having to make one of the largest payments to the state resulting from an APOC investigation of US$100,000, the final decree resulted in no admission of wrongdoing, but rather a commitment by these parties not to repeat this behavior again,” Brune wrote in a statement issued Feb. 26.
By accepting the consent decree, the campaign watchdog group agreed that “no further proceedings against respondents will be brought by APOC with regard to these matters,” relieving Gillam, the Renewable Resources Coalition and Alaskans for Clean Water of any further probes by APOC related to the 2008 campaign.
As a result of the agreement the APOC staff retracted an earlier recommendation that the case be turned over to Alaska’s attorney general for further investigation.
“The APOC staff agrees that in light of this agreement, and in light of respondents’ cooperation with the investigation, no referral for criminal enforcement against any of the respondents is warranted. Accordingly, the Commission will not refer this matter to the Attorney General’s office,” the consent decree read.