All but one seat in the state legislature is up for reelection this fall. Combine that with the controversial issue of oil tax reform and Alaskans are hearing a lot of political ads this campaign season. The Alaska Public Interest Research Group released a report that compiles spending amounts from groups producing so-called “issue ads” in the state.
If you listen to commercial radio in Alaska, you are probably hearing ads that go something like this.
“Oil pays the bills, so the burden doesn’t fall on us. That’s why I’m voting for more oil, more jobs, a stronger economy. I’m voting for oil tax reform.”
The ad is funded by the Make Alaska Competitive Coalition, a group that wants the state to lower oil taxes. Because they don’t name a specific candidate, MACC does not have to register with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. But Jim Sykes, with the Alaska Public Interest Research Group – or AkPIRG – says that is a line the ads come very close to crossing.
“It was I’m voting for, I’m voting for, I’m voting for, but there’s nothing on the ballot you can actually vote for. You can’t vote for or against lowering oil taxes so the only thing you can vote for in this election is a candidate.”
According to AkPIRG, the Make Alaska Competitive ads are part of the first major wave of unregulated political ads in the state in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court Decision that allows unrestricted political spending by companies and unions. After that decision, the Alaska Legislature passed a law creating reporting requirements for issue groups, but only if they are advocating for or against specific candidates. Matt Wallace is AkPIRG’s executive director. He says the public deserves better information on groups that produce more general issue ads too:
“They should register and they should disclose. If they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. Whether they do it officially or not, the public should know how much is being spent and who the contributors are.”
The Make Alaska Competitive Coalition does provide a list of its corporate and individual donations on its website. The group says it does not accept money from oil companies. Jason Moore is a spokesperson for the group. He won’t say specifically how much MACC is spending on issue ads in Alaska only that their fundraising goal is between $300,000 and $500,000. He says the group is operating well within the law:
“We have Republicans and Democrats both that make up the coalition. And so we are not interested in trying to affect any political race, we’re just interested in the sole issue of doing something about oil taxes so we can increase investment and generate more oil production which the state desperately needs.”
The AkPIRG report lists two other issue groups that are disclosing their spending amounts and supporters to the Alaska Public Offices Commission. The Putting Alaskans First Committee is releasing ads supporting the bipartisan coalition in the State Senate that rejected Governor Parnell’s bill to lower oil taxes. The committee has spent almost $300,000 to date on advertising. In contrast, the We Are Alaska group is releasing ads against the Senate bipartisan coalition. They have spent about $85,000. Ads from both groups name specific senators to vote for or against.
- AKPIRG report (PDF)