Opponents of measure 2 on this month’s Alaska primary ballot are using their sizable financial advantage to flood the airwaves.
Thanks largely to donations from resource development groups and companies, the “Vote No on 2″ campaign is running TV and radio commercials in addition to print advertising, encouraging voters to say no to the measure restoring Alaska’s Coastal Management Program.
Backers of the citizen’s initiative say they’re not trying to compete with the full on media blitz, but believe their support in coastal communities will help them prevail.
If you’re watching the Olympics on TV this week, chances are you’ve seen the ads urging you to vote no on Ballot Measure 2.
The “Vote No on 2″ campaign paid for the TV spots with some of the nearly $719,000 in cash it raised since forming just two months ago.
Mike Satre is executive director of the Council of Alaska Producers — a trade group representing large-scale mines and mining projects in the state. It was one of the first groups to give money to “No on 2,” cutting a $25,000 check in June. Satre says the council’s membership supported the state’s previous coastal management program, but is concerned about the version outlined in Measure 2.
“We had some long conversations about where we sat on this program and ultimately decided that because of the uncertainty that this initiative would bring out, the new bureaucracy it would bring about that we simply couldn’t support this initiative,” Satre says.
Other resource development companies and organizations have followed suit. That includes a $150,000 donation from Shell Oil; $120,000 from the Alaska Miners Association; and $75,000 dollars from Hecla Greens Creek Mining Company — Juneau’s largest private employer.
Satre, who’s also donated more than $5,000 of his own staff time as an in-kind contribution, says obviously the money will help to get the message out on multiple platforms between now and Election Day on August 28th.
“We find that most people around the state don’t know what this initiative is, and so it’s very, very important that we spend our time and money on educating voters,” he says.
In contrast to the anti-Measure 2 group, initiative sponsors the Alaska Sea Party raised just under $64,000 during the last reporting period. Juneau Mayor and Sea Party Chairman Bruce Botelho says the group will not be airing TV ads during the Olympics, or at all for that matter.
“Obviously it’s a concern, because we will not be able to match the message that people will be exposed to, perhaps saturated with,” Botelho says.
He says the Sea Party plans to respond with a “grassroots” campaign, including door-to-door canvassing, phone calls, and speeches to civic groups.
In response to industry claims that Measure 2 is too complex and would add another layer of bureaucracy, he says the initiative is really just a framework to set up a coastal management program like the one the state had for more than 30 years.
Botelho says that includes the fundamental feature of coastal management — one-stop permit review for coastal projects by a single state agency. He argues that’s pro-development, especially when the builder is a small company or an individual.
“That person or company has an opportunity to have all the regulatory agencies at the table at the same time, walking through issues that may arise,” he says. “And to make sure that we don’t get in the cycle that is actually starting to occur now, which is if the permit has to be modified with one agency, you basically have to run the gauntlet yet again.”
In addition, coastal management traditionally gives local communities a greater voice in development decisions happening in their backyards. For that reason, Botelho thinks the Sea Party will have an advantage when it comes to support in coastal areas.
“In the rural, coastal communities, there has been a very strong statement of support for coastal management and for the initiative,” he says. “They see the importance of having a viable coastal management program and having a community voice.”
Indeed, the Sea Party’s largest contributor is the North Slope Borough, which has given more than $40,000 since late last year. Other top donors include the Bristol Bay Borough, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, and Anchorage businessman Bob Gillam — a major opponent of the proposed Pebble Mine.
Satre says “Vote No on 2″ supporters are not opposed to local input when it comes to development.
“I can see why coastal communities want to get a program back on the table,” he says.
But he still thinks the measure goes too far.
The Alaska Coastal Management Program shut down in 2011 after the multiple failed attempts by the legislature to reauthorize it.
If voters okay the initiative, it would likely take about two years to get federal approval for a new program. Currently, Alaska is the only coastal state without an authorized coastal management program.