What are we going to do with all that money?

In 1969, when Alaskans realized how much oil was in Prudhoe Bay, people quickly understood the implications. A formerly cash starved state was going to get rich. The questions were how quickly, how rich, and what should be done with all that money?

When Alaska Natives demanded a settlement of their land claims, it was apparent this issue needed to be resolved before any pipeline could be built. The landmark legislation which resulted, the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act of 1971, cleared the way. Then the oil crisis of 1973 made the enormous cost of a pipeline economically feasible. Construction began in 1974, and by the summer of 1977 the oil began to flow. By 1978 1.2 million barrels a day were arriving in Valdez, gradually reaching a peak in 1988 of 2 million barrels a day. The State of Alaska was poor no more.

The still unanswered question was, what to do with all the money? As a result, the most important election in Alaska’s history was the 1978 Republican gubernatorial primary. Whoever won would become Governor, with the power to control the expenditure of the windfall.

The candidates were incumbent Governor Jay Hammond, the man most responsible for creation of the Alaska Permanent Fund; former Governor and Secretary of the Interior Wally Hickel; and conservative stalwart Tom Fink, Speaker of the House. Neither Hickel or Fink had much use for the Permanent Fund. They both believed that Permanent Fund money should be spent on major infrastructure improvements, like the Rampart Dam. So this election determined the fate of the Fund. It would either thrive, under Hammond, or be discarded in favor of huge mega-projects. Bridges across the Turnagain Arm and the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet were seriously considered. Moving the state Capitol from Juneau to Wasilla was financially feasible. Money was no object.

Hickel was one of the richest men in the state, while Hammond and Fink had modest means, and relied on small dollar donations. All the business interests in the state, along with organized labor, were behind Hickel, but they were unable to overwhelm Hammond with money. In 1978 Alaska had a very strict campaign finance laws, and Hickel’s wealthy supporters were of limited use to him. This proved critical, since Hammond only beat him by 98 votes.

That law was later ruled unconstitutional, and recent Supreme Court decisions have made effective campaign finance laws unobtainable. Big money from outside, dark money, from people like George Soros, will be pouring into next year’s Alaska Senate election. Dark money groups get a bigger bang for their buck in small states like Alaska. Here, a few million dollars can make a difference. In large states, they have to spend a lot more to have an effect. And the votes of Senators from Alaska count just much as the ones from California.

Alaskan voters have repeatedly voted for campaign finance reform, most recently in 2020, for Prop. 2. We’d vote for it again, if we could, but court decisions like Thompson v. Hebdon prevent any such reform from taking place. Congress will never clean up this mess. It’s dysfunctional, mired in extreme partisanship, and thoroughly corrupted by big money donors.

One group of American patriots, Wolf-PAC, is trying to do something about this corruption, and the Alaska Legislature in 2022 will have the opportunity to participate in the solution they propose. It can pass a resolution calling for an Amendment Convention limited solely to the subject of campaign finance for the purpose of proposing an amendment to the United States Constitution. Under the terms of Article V of the Constitution, if 34 state legislatures pass such resolutions, Congress is required to call the Convention for this limited purpose. When the Amendment Convention meets, citizen delegates will work to address citizens’ concerns with negotiated compromises needed the achieve bipartisan consensus needed to ratify.   A partisan proposal would be pointless, since it could never be ratified by the required 38 states.

Campaign Finance Reform can work, as shown by its effect in Alaska in 1978. We wouldn’t have a Permanent Fund without it. The United States Congress is dysfunctional, paralyzed by the money of special interests. The Alaska legislature can be part of the solution.

 

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