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Opinion: Tracking the Outside money in Alaska politics

Since its inception, the Alaska Policy Forum has been guided by a vision of continuously growing prosperity in Alaska. Our work is to support policy and leadership that maximizes individual opportunity and empowers Alaskans to pursue that opportunity freely and with confidence.

We believe in our state and its people. We are optimistic and believe a bright future lies ahead. To ensure that bright future, Alaska’s voters and policymakers need to be able to make informed decisions based on a solid foundation of knowledge, transparency, and clarity regarding issues that will shape our path forward.

Too often, in today’s political landscape, that’s simply not possible.

This is, in part, because the high-profile debates currently underway in Alaska are being increasingly influenced by an influx of serious money from outside of our state. This growing pool of funding is being used to distort debates and advance agendas that are driven not by the best interests of our state, but by activists, advocates, foundations, and billionaires from all over the country.

This money is changing the face of policy in Alaska, and it’s doing so behind closed doors. That’s bad for our state and runs contrary to the principles of sound policymaking.

That’s why the Alaska Policy Forum is launching a new site focused on detailing and chronicling the Outside money that is impacting policy in Alaska and putting the agendas of environmental activists ahead of our own.

This isn’t a new or unfamiliar dynamic for our state. For decades, Outside environmental interests opposed to resource development in Alaska have sought to influence local, state, and federal decisions impacting Alaska policy — like opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They continue to do so today and one prominent advocacy campaign stands out as the flagship of their effort: Ballot Measure 1.

Ballot Measure 1 would overhaul the way Alaska regulates permitting for development projects ranging from energy infrastructure to roads and bridges. Supporters of Ballot Measure 1 state they are acting to protect salmon. The reality of Ballot Measure 1 is much different and it has the potential to have a serious detrimental impact on both existing and future economic development in Alaska. What’s more, implementation would require additional state spending to meet the regulatory requirements. The burden of the policies enacted by Ballot Measure 1 would fall upon state regulators, creating an ever-larger strain on our already strapped state budget.

Who, then, is behind Ballot Measure 1? Those supporting Ballot Measure 1 include a handful of local groups, including the official Yes for Salmon campaign as well as Stand for Salmon, the Alaska Center, Salmon State, and Wild Salmon Center organizations.

But the money behind those groups isn’t local. In fact, there’s a web of Outside money behind Yes for Salmon.

Take the New Venture Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based entity with a long history of dropping into local debates with big money and big ideas about how to shape local issues in a way that advances broader environmentalist priorities. The New Venture Fund contributed at least $400,000 to help establish Salmon State and they are also listed as the employer of the Alaska Center activist managing the Yes for Salmon effort.

But the Outside money in Alaska goes much deeper than this. Nearly all of the money New Venture Fund pumped into Salmon State came from the California-based Hewlett Foundation — another group known for extreme climate activism.

Other big names — like billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Keystone XL agitators Bold Alliance — are plying their trade in Alaska in an effort to impose an agenda contrary to our own.

Alaskans deserve to know who’s pulling the strings in our state. In the coming weeks, the Alaska Policy Forum will be looking into the Outside money that is impacting policy in Alaska. Our mission is to empower and educate Alaskans and policymakers, and ultimately to help cultivate a pro-growth policy environment built on principles of transparency and honesty.

The debate we have today will inform the decisions we make at the ballot box and will in turn shape our state’s future. We’ll be there every step of the way, working to shed light on the web of Outside money behind Yes for Salmon — and broader efforts to derail Alaska’s economic success.


• Larry Barsukoff, JD / MBA, is the Director of Operations for the Alaska Policy Forum. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.


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