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Who's lobbying Alaska's lawmakers? And for how much?

Laurel Andrews
According to state officials, more than 120 lobbyists are registered this legislative session, earning widely varying compensation, from $25 an hour to $192,000 annually per client. So who’s the top dog, at least financially? Aaron Jansen illustration

Alaska’s legislative session is well under way, and that means some of Alaska’s most influential players have hit the ground running in Juneau, hiring high-paid representatives to prowl the halls of the state Capitol and lobbying lawmakers.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC), responsible for publishing campaign and finance disclosures in regards to Alaska’s public officials and lobbyists, published its 2013 Lobbyist Directory last week, offering a snapshot of the movers and shakers in Alaska. As always, corporations, unions, social organizations, cities and municipalities and Native corporations all have major money invested in influencing the outcome of this year’s legislative session.

According to APOC, more than 120 lobbyists are registered for this session, earning widely varying compensation, from $25 to $350 an hour, and up to $192,000 annually per client. So who’s the top dog, at least financially?

According to APOC, the top-paid lobbyist this year is Kent Dawson, who has reported earning $964,000 from 17 different clients, including $84,000 from the city of Seward. The second-highest paid lobbyist is Wendy Chamberlain, who reported $891,500 in compensation from 14 different clients, including $120,000 alone from Pebble Partnership -- the organization advocating for the massive gold and copper mine in Southwest Alaska. Robert Evans and Jerry Mackie tied for third place, with each reporting about $794,000.

How does lobbying influence Alaska lawmaking?

From legislation on wastewater discharge rules for cruise ships to a controversial school voucher measure to proposed laws shaping Alaska's oil and gas industry -- including a Gov. Sean Parnell's proposal to slash some $1 billion in taxes on oil companies -- state lawmakers are under the constant watch, and influence, of lobbyists. National companies and organizations also have a presence in the capitol's hallways. The National Rifle Association, which is trying to prevent new gun restrictions in the wake of high-profile shootings like Sandy Hook Elementary in December, is spending nearly $100,000 on a lobbyist in Juneau this session.

Lobbyists hold “quite a bit” of influence on Alaska legislation, says Dr. Gerald McBeath, professor of political science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. And it's turning out to be "a good year to be paying close attention to who is lobbying, and how much lobbying they are doing,”

So far, though, Joan Mize, APOC's program coordinator, says that the amounts being spent this year are about the same as in 2012, adding she hasn’t noticed any major changes from last year. According to APOC estimates, in 2012 employers spent about $16 million on lobbyists. An additional $500,000 was spent on expenses, including hotels, meals, drinks and transportation for lobbyists.

Some of the industries spending big bucks on lobbying the Alaska Legislature:

Oil and gas: Apache Corp., a Houston-based oil and gas company that's been raising its profile in Alaska, is spending $192,000 annually on lobbying. ConocoPhillips, the largest oil producer in the state, has four lobbyists working on oil and gas issues and taxes, while BP Exploration (Alaska) is paying one lobbyist $125 an hour and another $97 an hour to lobby on “oil and gas taxes, regulations, permits and other oil and gas matters.” Arctic Slope Regional Corp., TransCanada Pipeline, and Buccaneer Alaska also have lobbyists in Juneau.

Royal Dutch Shell, which spent last summer drilling preliminary exploration wells in federal waters in the Arctic Ocean, reports spending $194 per hour to pay a lobbyist to work matters "related to offshore oil and gas exploration and production” and Coastal Zone Management, a program the legislature let expire last session. Shell spent tens of thousands of dollars last summer to help defeat a ballot initiative that would have brought back the program, which proponents claim would give Alaskans more of a voice in federal coastal issues. And now lawmakers are again debating whether to revive the program.

Health care: Unsustainable health-care costs have been identified as a major issue for the state, with more than a dozen organizations lobbying about various aspects of the industry. Among them are Providence Health and Services Alaska, which is spending $65,000 on lobbying, and Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which is dropping $145,000 on to two lobbyists. Other organizations funding lobbyists include the Alaska Surgery Center, Alaska Regional Hospital and Alaska Pharmacists Association.  

Fisheries: At least eight organizations with a stake in Alaska's prolific commercial fisheries have lobbyists in Juneau, including the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association, which is paying $90,000 for one lobbyist, and Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., which is spending $75,000 on two lobbyists.

Mining: Pebble Partnership, which wants to develop a gold and copper mine in Southwest Alaska, is paying more than $196,000 to four lobbyists. Usibelli Coal Mine, Rio Tinto, Kennecott, Donlin Gold LLC, and the Alaska Miners Association are also involved in lobbying efforts to further their agendas in the state.

Tourism and the cruise industry: The legislature just passed a bill rolling back a 2006 citizen initiative that required cruise-liners to manage wastewater to higher environmental standards [link]. Princess Tours has dished out $78,000 for a lobbyist to address environmental laws pertaining to the cruise industry. Alaska Cruise Industry is spending $195,000 on three lobbyists.

Cities and municipalities: Interestingly, the town of King Cove on the Alaska Peninsula, population 938, is spending $45,000 a year – or $5,000 more than Fairbanks, Alaska’s second-largest city with more than 32,000 residents. Other big spenders include the city of Seward, which is spending $84,000 annually, and the Municipality of Anchorage, which is spending $100,000 for the year.

Unions: Among the unions represented in Juneau are Teamsters Local 959, which is paying a lobbyist $61.87 an hour to lobby for legislation affecting labor unions, Alaska AFL-CIO, which is paying a lobbyist $9,000 a month for labor related issues, the University of Alaska Federation of Teachers, and Alaska District Council of Laborers.

Telecommunications: Telecommunications legislation is big business this session, with AT&T spending about $92,000 for a lobbyist, while ACS is spending more than $80,000. GCI has allocated $185,000 on four lobbyists, and Verizon spending $36,000 on issues related to wireless communication.

Other sectors: Other major sectors include education, technology, social issues and insurance. The global powerhouse Apple Inc. has hired four people to lobby the legislature on technology and education, while the National Rifle Association is funding one lobbyist at nearly $100,000. The education sector is being lobbied by various school districts, and organizations such as the Alaska Library Association and the Alaska Council of School Administrators. Social issues are being lobbied by organizations including Planned Parenthood, AARP, Alaska Community Action on Toxics. GEICO, which is paying a whopping $350 an hour for its lobbyist.

The complete list of lobbyists is available on APOC’s website, categorized by both employer and individual lobbyist.

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com.