OPINION: Following the 'Outside' money backing Stand for Salmon

  • Backers of the Stand for Salmon initiative deliver petitons to the Division of Elections on Jan. 16. (Photo/Elwood Brehmer/AJOC)

The backers of the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative well understand the power of pitting Alaskans against quote-unquote Outsiders.

The phrase “foreign mining corporations” is used no fewer than six times on the “Get the Facts” page on their website.

One particularly strident sentence reads: “In order to protect our Alaskan way of life, we need to support this initiative and not buy what the dishonest foreign mining corporations have to sell.”

Stand for Salmon Campaign Director Ryan Schryver used the occasion of a minor fine against the measure’s opponents to accuse them of trying to fool voters by not adding the words “Vote No on One” to their organization’s Stand for Alaska name promptly enough after the initiative was certified in March.

“They have to create distrust and confusion to be successful,” he told the Anchorage Daily News.

That is a particularly rich charge for an organization that created the ultimate bumper sticker slogan to promote its ballot measure.

While the Stand for Salmon proponents attempt to paint the opposition as foreign interlopers into Alaska’s affairs, they are hardly being transparent when it comes to the source of their funding.

The top contributors include the Alaska Conservation Foundation, the Alaska Center, Cook Inletkeeper, the Wild Salmon Center and Salmon State. The initiative itself was crafted by environmental law firm Trustees for Alaska, which is well known for its legal activism against resource development in the state.

According to campaign disclosures, about $730,000 of the $1.1 million in reported contributions to the effort are classified as non-monetary, with the Alaska Center topping the list at $357,000 followed by the Washington, D.C.-based New Venture Fund that employs Schryver at $227,000.

Cook Inletkeeper is next at about $83,000 in non-monetary contributions to the effort.

If money from outside the state is dirty, then all these groups with “Alaska” in their names hardly have clean hands.

Trustees for Alaska lists 14 foundations as its top donors in its 2017 annual report, with only one having any staff based here and that one, the Leighty Foundation, was founded by a family from Waterloo, Iowa, but reported a Juneau address in its most recent IRS Form 990.

The 14 most recent 990s for those groups show about $339,000 in donations to Trustees for Alaska.

The Venn diagram of Trustees for Alaska foundation donors overlaps nearly perfectly with those to the groups backing the Stand for Salmon initiative.

The Alaska Center received $255,000 in donations from the same foundations that back Trustees for Alaska in the most recent year according to the Form 990s.

It has also received another $245,000 from the New Venture Fund for a total of a half-million dollars in “Outside” money in the most recent year forms are available.

Cook Inletkeeper received about $260,000 in donations from the New Venture Fund and the Trustees for Alaska foundation donors.

These 14 foundations collectively hold about $463 million in assets according to their most recent 990s, with the New Venture Fund adding another $230 million for nearly $700 million total.

What these groups have in common is their fight against resource development of all kinds in addition to the money that insulates them from the consequences of the policies they are trying to implement around the country.

All the groups with Alaskan addresses are a handy vehicle to carry through money in order to advance the goals of these non-Alaska foundations, with the added benefit of those organizations not having to disclose how they are contributing nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in “non-monetary” resources to an effort that will undoubtedly cost the state jobs if it passes.

As just one example, the 444 S Foundation based in Bellevue, Wash., donated $115,000 to the Alaska Center and $60,000 to Trustees for Alaska in 2016, with another $100,000 to the New Venture Fund.

What is the 444 S Foundation? Besides being endorsed by the Sierra Club, Code Pink and the socialist Working Families Organization, its executive director is Fred Munson, who is also a member of the Arctic Defense Fund advisory council, which dispersed funds to support the “kayaktivists” who blockaded Shell in Seattle in 2015 and later hung from bridges in Portland trying to prevent its outer continental shelf drilling.

Arctic Defense Fund was created by the Rockefeller Foundation’s Sustainable Market Solutions, whose principal officer is Jay Halfon, a professional litigator for Earthworks and well known “frackivist” leading the fights against the U.S. energy boom in natural gas.

The point is not that there is anything wrong with these foundations contributing their money to the causes they support. And to be clear, their opponents have vastly outraised Stand for Salmon by a 9-1 margin so far.

Rather, it is disingenuous to the nth degree for the supporters of Stand for Salmon to attack the companies that are being completely open about their donations while theirs come from groups in Boston, New York, DC and San Francisco who belong to the “keep it in the ground” movement that are rightly distrusted by those who live and work here.

Admitting they take money from outside foundations as a means to even up the odds, even slightly, would at least be an honest argument.

But that’s probably too much to expect when it comes to politics.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
09/12/2018 - 3:31pm

Comments