Earlier last week, activists fighting a tax cut on oil companies requested a meeting with police. They said their opponents were harassing people circulating referendum petitions, and that if this kept up, it could make it harder for the repeal proposition to get on the ballot. Now, it’s come out that the person behind the opposition effort is actually a well-known political operative who’s been promoting an initiative of his own.
If you’ve ever turned on the radio or television during the campaign season, you’ve probably heard an Art Hackney ad. He’s done work for Congressman Don Young and the late Sen. Ted Stevens. American Crossroads, the Republican State Leadership Committee, and Americans for Job Security have also been among his clients. Most recently, he’s been putting out ads like this.
NARRATOR: One pebble and BOOM. There’s a hole many times bigger than all mines in Alaska’s history put together.
Hackney’s been one of the key campaigners for a ballot initiative that could slow down the development of Pebble mine, or block it altogether. But before that, he ran an ad campaign against high oil taxes.
NARRATOR: Now, when Alberta, Canada, lowered taxes, the oil industry plowed money right back into their economy. It’s creating so many jobs, they’re inviting Alaskans to move to Alberta. Call your legislator. Ask them how tripling taxes can get results like that.
Now, Hackney is working against Pebble Mine and an effort to repeal a tax cut on oil companies at the same time. Instead of going through the airwaves, he’s putting his money on the streets. He’s set up a company called “Alaska Resources,” and he’s paying a half dozen people $15 an hour to go protest locations where signatures are being gathered for the oil tax referendum.
“We just decided why not exercise the same constitutional right they have to collect signatures by standing there and taking issue with it.”
Organizers behind the oil tax referendum learned that Hackney was behind the opposition effort just recently. And they believe Hackney’s team has gone beyond their constitutional right, and what they’re doing is intimidation. Earlier this week, the coordinators of the “Yes Repeal the Giveaway” referendum said they were being verbally and physically harassed. On Thursday, they ended up calling the police to the Anchorage Barnes and Noble when a member of Hackney’s team came to discourage people from signing their petition booklets. They need over 30,000 signatures to get on the ballot.
Pat Lavin manages the referendum group, and he compares what Alaska Resources is doing to stalking. He calls the situation “deeply troubling.”
“Of course, everybody’s entitled to their own opinion and that’s great. But when it comes to paid, determined interference with signing a petition booklet, that’s different.”
Hackney denies that they’re interfering with the signature gathering.
“It’s absolute crap. I mean, it gets reported on, and they full well know this simply because they make the allegation,” says Hackney. “[My staff] make it very clear to all of the people who come up that they have every right to sign that petition, that those signature gatherers have a right to be there and they have a right to make a case that what they’re saying is not true and that the oil tax referendum is a bad thing for Alaska and for jobs. I’m very proud of them all. I think they’re comporting themselves very nicely.”
The Anchorage Police Department investigated the referendum organizers’ claim that Alaska Resources interfered with their constitutional rights and couldn’t find any evidence that any laws were being broken.
Dani Myren is a spokesperson for the Anchorage Police Department, and she’s says they’ll keep monitoring the situation.
“If there are concerns, if there’s suspicious activity, if there’s any criminal activity, then we would hope that the parties involve would contact APD so that we could respond and address that activity.”
Hackney says he plans to keep running Alaska Resources until the signature gatherers hit their July 13 deadline, and that he’s willing to put $10,000 of his own money toward keeping the referendum off the ballot. Alaska Statute doesn’t require him to publicly report any of that spending.