Sponsors of a marijuana regulation initiative have filed a complaint against their opposition, alleging that Big Marijuana Big Mistake has violated disclosure rules.
At issue is whether the owners of the anti-marijuana group’s public relations firm are serving in volunteer capacity and whether the firm’s time is being properly accounted. Kristina Woolston, a majority owner of Northwest Strategies, has identified herself as a volunteer for Big Marijuana Big Mistake when serving as a campaign spokesperson, and her time working against the initiative has not been disclosed in any campaign finance reports.
Chris Rempert, a sponsor of the Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, believes the anti-marijuana group is using that as a tactic to paint the initiative sponsors as outsiders.
“It’s very clear that they are willfully misrepresenting themselves to the public, to the media, and to election regulators because they think that will benefit them,” says Rempert.
Alaska law requires initiative campaigns to disclose their expenditures within a 10-day time frame, and the Alaska Public Offices Commission requires any sort of commercial services provided by volunteers to be documented as campaign contributions.
Northwest Strategies started working for Big Marijuana Big Mistake in mid-April, and the campaign’s first independent expenditure report was filed on May 27. None of the campaign’s independent expenditure reports make any note of Woolston’s volunteer time.
Woolston believes that the APOC complaint is a “distraction,” and that initiative sponsors are using it to divert attention from the $500,000 in funding they’ve received from the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.
Woolston says she identifies herself as a volunteer because she is not a salaried employee of Northwest Strategies.
“Yeah, well, this isn’t my job. I mean the work that I do is volunteer,” says Woolston. “You know, I don’t work for Northwest Strategies. I work for Chenega Corporation. I understand the ownership issue, but it’s a family business. And really, they’re grasping here.”
The connection between Big Marijuana Big Mistake, Northwest Strategies, and the Chenega Corporation is a bit of a tangle.
The Chenega Corporation employs Woolston as their vice president of government relations, and it gave $25,000 to the Big Marijuana Big Mistake campaign using Woolson as a contact. Big Marijuana Big Mistake is also a client of Northwest Strategies, which Woolston and her husband Tim own. According to the expenditure reports that have been filed to date, Northwest Strategies has done $24,150 in work for Big Marijuana Big Mistake, with $19,150 of that amount yet to be paid.
Woolston says that when she identifies herself as a volunteer, she’s representing herself as an executive at the Chenega Corportation not as an owner of Northwest Strategies. She adds that Northwest Strategies has a $7,500 a month contract with Big Marijuana Big Mistake, but the amount covers hard costs only and she is not personally profiting from it.
“My husband and I both volunteer our time,” says Woolston. “Yes, we do have an agency that has a very small contract — really a drop in the bucket if you want to talk about numbers and what the opposition is being paid.”
But the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol takes issue with that logic.
“You can’t say you’re giving something away for free and then charge for it,” says Taylor Bickford, a spokesperson employed by the pro-initiative campaign.
Woolston says she still plans to identify herself as a volunteer when campaigning against the marijuana ballot initiative.
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