Gara Slams GCI/Alaska’s Future Lobbying Effort

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Rep. Les Gara put out his newsletter today, a fiery push back against the efforts of GCI President Ron Duncan to sway legislators into adopting his vision of a sustainable fiscal framework for the state of Alaska.

Rep. Les Gara

Rep. Les Gara

Gara focuses his ire on two outside political consultants, Mike Dubke and Ben Sparks, who he calls a “shadowy” presence in the halls of the Capitol and says their work has an inescapable purpose:

And it’s hard to escape the conclusion (which is both pretty clear from the facts, and has been flatly admitted to me) that while these folks have campaigned to elect and defeat candidates big business and wealthy donors want them to help or harm — in this instance they are monitoring, and will likely campaign against both Republicans and Democrats who don’t do what they want.”

Here is the full text of Gara’s newsletter:

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Alaska is facing a massive budget deficit. The best way to address it is by working calmly and collaboratively, across party lines, to come to a bi-partisan solution. As the start of the legislative session approached, some of us learned that some Outside national political operatives have been hired— it appears quite clear — to monitor and eventually campaign against legislators who don’t do what they want on a fiscal plan. Having folks like that involved in your legislative process is too shadowy for my likes.

The two East Coast gentlemen I will tell you about aren’t the usual folks who come through our legislative halls, sharing opinions on one side or the other of an issue. They are people who have built their careers using massive sums of corporate and wealthy donor money to attack national candidates to defeat them, or to support candidates who do what they like. Having these folks involved in Alaska’s fiscal plan discussions is not helpful. I do not think what these folks are doing promotes clean, open government. It makes encouraging a collaborative atmosphere for working out a fiscal plan harder, not easier.

And it’s hard to escape the conclusion (which is both pretty clear from the facts, and has been flatly admitted to me) that while these folks have campaigned to elect and defeat candidates big business and wealthy donors want them to help or harm — in this instance they are monitoring, and will likely campaign against both Republicans and Democrats who don’t do what they want.

I would like a promise from the Alaska businessman who hired them that this will not be the case. But America is a free country and he is allowed to unfortunately spend as much money as he wants to do that after the controversial U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Citizens United, which allows for unlimited corporate, group and wealthy donor spending on elections.

Michael Dubke & Ben Sparks: Their Jobs Are Campaigning For and Against Public Officials and Candidates, Not in Helping States Solve Budget Problems

Here are a few telling facts on who these gentlemen are, and, frankly, why I don’t want them meddling in our state’s politics.

The resumes of these two gentlemen, and the work they do, shows their expertise is in electing and defeating political candidates for the people who pay them. They don’t come to states to help with state budgets or fiscal problems. They come to states to elect and un-elect public officials and candidates. They have nothing to offer Alaskans looking for analysis, ideas, or budget solutions. And to be fair, while these folks have big business, corporate and billionaire donor ties, there are both Republican and Democratic groups in the national level that do the same thing.

The more high-profile of the two gentlemen who have been hired to follow our legislature is Michael Dubke. Mr. Dubke co-founded two of the biggest national big money, election-spending “Super-PACs” in the country. One is the corporate and billionaire funded group, “Americans for Job Security”, and the other is “Crossroads Media”. They share the same offices. crossroadsmedia.tv/team_mdubke.php Crossroads Media gets much of its money from a bigger Super-PAC called American Crossroads.  publicintegrity.org/2012/04/20/8696/crossroads-political-machine-funded-mostly-secret-donors. The latter was founded by the controversial national campaign strategist, Karl Rove. The billionaire political donors, the Koch Brothers, are major spenders for the biggest Super-PAC Dubke co-founded, the so-called group “Americans for Job Security.” sourcewatch.org/index.php/Americans_for_Job_Security 

These groups spend tens of millions of dollars in Presidential and Congressional politics. Las Vegas Business Billionaires Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, two of the biggest donors in the nation, and big Presidential Super-PAC spenders, are major funders of American Crossroads. publicintegrity.org/2012/01/31/8055/american-crossroads-top-donors

Mr. Sparks has worked for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is a Super-PAC that has been funded by corporations like the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs, and other moneyed and corporate interests. See njgop.org/2013/03/25/ben-sparks-named-new-njgop-communications-director/ and

ballotpedia.org/National_Republican_Senatorial_Committee#Donors (Biggest Committee Donors).

Why They’re Meddling In Alaska Politics?

The Budget Problem: To keep this as short as possible, I will write more about Alaska’s need for a fiscal plan in a newsletter “to come to your inbox soon.” But here’s some basic background. When oil prices plummeted from over $100/barrel to less than $40/barrel, it decimated our budget and our main revenue source. No one expected the big price drop, and even though I feel our current oil tax system vastly shortchanges Alaskans as I’ve previously written, no oil tax system could produce enough revenue to Alaska to avoid a major budget problem at these low oil prices. And while there are a number of unaffordable projects our there (in my view the Anchorage Legislative Office Building, Knik Arm Bridge, Susitna Dam, and $600 million Juneau Road Extension which would just extend to a different port and not connect to Alaska’s highway system) — spending on many of those projects has essentially stopped, and even without them we’d face a $3+ billion deficit. So stopping those projects won’t solve the budget problem either.

You could go so far as to fire 12,000 state employees. That would lead to a recession because jobs would leave the economy, people would have far less purchasing power to spend at our businesses, and home values would plummet. And frankly, decimating basic public safety, education, prison, road maintenance and other services would decimate this state. Oh, and firing 12,000 people would still leave us with a $1.5 billion deficit. This state needs to avoid wasteful spending, but the hard truth is while oil prices remain low, we need a fiscal plan, which means raising revenue. That is, raising revenue in a way that is fair to lower and middle income people, and wealthy people alike. But I am concerned some who lobby will push for a plan that favors the wealthiest and most privileged Alaskans, over the rest of you. My job is to fight for balance, honest compromise and responsible budgeting.

One final budget myth-busting note. Contrary to claims by some, if you adjust state spending for inflation and population growth, the state spends less today, per Alaskan resident, than it did 30 years ago. Not convincing enough? The budget has also been cut significantly, in actual dollars, since 2008. We cut close to $1 billion in state spending last year alone.

The Permanent Fund Debate: Enter Mr. Dubke and Mr. Sparks

Ron Duncan is President and CEO of GCI, an Alaskan company. He has always been polite to me. He has also made, in my view, a monumental miscalculation. For whatever reason — only he knows — he has hired Mr. Dubke and Mr. Sparks. He did this a while back. His is proposing to cut the PFD to free up money to help close a part of the deficit. That is a position many Alaskans take. Some Alaskans may agree or disagree with him. The idea, with many others, is a good faith one and should be discussed in the open, without threats. Without the specter of dark campaign money lurking in the background. And without the shadows of Mr. Dubke and Mr. Sparks – and their experience in attacking candidates with big money – hovering over Alaska’s State Capitol. Of course, Mr. Duncan can choose to do what he wants. It’s a free country. I just wish he would consider how this threatens to undermine a collaborative political process, which requires something better than suggestions of campaign threats.

Finally, I’ve heard a few lame explanations for the presence of these gentlemen. To be fair, they have not to date personally threatened anyone I know of. But it is what they do for a living that is bothersome. One of them apparently shared some polling Mr. Duncan had paid for with legislators. But, also to be fair, we have many Alaskans who can read and present polls. Diane Kaplan from the Rasmussen Foundation did a nice job presenting poll results to legislators the other day. So, sorry, I don’t buy the idea that two men who have built their careers destroying political careers and creating new ones for the candidates they are hired to help, are needed to “read a poll” for us. I’m not Albert Einstein. But I’m not dumb. Something more fishy is going on.

Mr. Duncan has since organized a number of other Alaskans — owners of larger Alaska businesses, some unions, and other good Alaskans — to form a coalition on this one issue (though the other coalition members differ on other aspects of a fiscal plan they’d like to see). I welcome individuals, groups and coalitions to a needed discussion. It is important. The more who participate, the better. But the other members of this new coalition are, to be fair, not the folks who paid to bring Mr. Dubke and Mr. Sparks into the fray.

I have been, and will continue to keep my mind open on every fiscal solution. I will evaluate every one fairly. And I will tell you something that’s not that popular to say — that closing a $3.5 billion budget gap will require raising revenue from a number of sources, while at the same time rooting out wasteful spending so we can afford priorities like education, roads, public safety, and the protection of our seniors and children. I think part of a plan should involve closing major oil tax loopholes (for example, if ANWR were opened today for drilling, the current law would allow those fields to pay a 0% Production Tax. Yes, ZERO). We should talk about everything, but that also means talking about Alaska’s corporate tax loophole which exempts most highly profitable corporations from paying any state corporate tax. Ultimately a plan needs to be broad, and should be one that affects people fairly, whether rich or poor, and whether they have a lobbyist or not.

That’s it for now. More to come soon.

As always, let us know if you need our help, or have thoughts or concerns.

My Best,

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2 Comments on "Gara Slams GCI/Alaska’s Future Lobbying Effort"

  1. And sometimes the worm turns. This is the same Dubke who was faced with the largest ever APOC fine (err… settlement agreement), and who was recommended to the AG for criminal investigation over his work to stop Pebble, no?

  2. Thank you Rep. Gara for this very imformative article. Their interests certainly are not in our well being. Ron Duncan has only his own agenda to push on Alaskans, just like Super-Pacs and Big Oil. Their only interest is to keep the money flowing into the bought and paid for shills like Sparks and Dubke to ensure their continued support of the very rich who are pulling all the strings. Knowledge is power, lets support Rep. Gara and other legislators who have our best interest in mind. Vote out the crooks kowtowing to these big money political machines.

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