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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Alaska to boost lobbyist support by $1.2 million

In a debate that lasted a combined eight minutes in both houses of the state Legislature, Alaska politicians on two committees approved a new subsidy of $1.2 million for Arctic Power, the chief lobbying group behind oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

If approved by the full Legislature, the new amount would bring the total taxpayer subsidy for Arctic Power to about $10 million when "past years" are included, to use the vague language employed by the Anchorage Daily News. This funding makes up the majority of the lobby's operating revenue. The proposed new funding from the state is about five times greater than Arctic Power raised in donations "in recent years," according to more vague language in the News.

There were only token objections, and yet this was interesting. Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, complained about the $31,000 monthly that Arctic Power spends to maintain its Anchorage office. The lobby said this money pays for rent, the salaries of three staffers, mailings, tour coordination and web site maintenance. But if you pay attention to the group's websites, you will see they are updated infrequently (to put it mildly).

Weyhrauch also questioned whopping monthly payments of $9,350 and $7,500 to two Arctic Power contract workers in Washington and Anchorage. "I don't see much accountability for all this money we're dumping," he said.

I guess the state and taxpayers figure this is money well spent. Indeed, it is but a tiny fraction of the cash splashed out in annual "Permanent Fund" payments to state residents. Under the state's unusual oil-royalty distribution program, last year every resident of the state received a check for $920, totalling about $600 million.

If the new $1.2 million in state funding is approved, Arctic Power plans to spend $600,000 on lobbying in Washington, $300,000 in other "key states," and $72,000 trying to win the hearts of labor unions.

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