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Cruise ship industry funds Alaska tax fight


June 14, 2006

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A group called Alaskans Protecting Our Economy is mostly funded by a trade association based in Canada that represents foreign-flagged cruise ships, according to public documents.

Alaskans Protecting Our Economy represents individuals and businesses who oppose Ballot Measure 2, a citizens' initiative that would tax cruise ships and make them get state pollution discharge permits, among other steps.

The measure will go before voters in the Aug. 22 statewide primary.




Alaskans Protecting Our Economy received $593,300 in contributions as of May 11, according to filings with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. All of it came from the Vancouver-based North West CruiseShip Association.

Only donations greater then $500 must be reported to APOC, so it's possible the group received additional money.

The cruise-ship association represents major cruise lines that bring nearly 1 million visitors a year to Alaska, a majority of the state's tourists.

It's fair to say that the cruise association is leading the funding effort, said Steve Frank, chairman of Alaskans Protecting Our Economy.

"Certainly the cruise association has a large financial interest in the initiative. They don't want to see it passed," he said.

The group expects to raise another $600,000 or so from the cruise lines between now and the primary, said Frank, a Fairbanks, Alaska, lodge owner and former state senator.

"The bulk of it will be spent on media," Frank said.

Alaskans Protecting Our Economy has hired Oregon-based Pac/West Communications to lead the advertising effort and political strategy to defeat the ballot initiative.

The Outside influence irks ballot-measure organizers.

"They're trying to give people the impression that it's an Alaskan campaign. They list all these Alaskan companies" on the group's Web site and campaign literature, said Gershon Cohen, a cruise industry critic and initiative sponsor.

"The money is coming from the cruise lines. It's coming from Miami through Vancouver," he said.

Most of the major cruise lines are based in Miami.

"I'm thankful that they're making a large contribution," said Chris Anderson, an Anchorage restaurateur and co-chairman of Alaskans Protecting Our Economy. "These are big businesses with ample resources to work on this."

If the ballot initiative passes and cruise passengers must pay a $50-per-person tax, it could hurt his business and many others, said Anderson, who owns Orso and Glacier Brewhouse in downtown Anchorage.

Initiative supporters predict an extra $50 won't drive away anyone who has invested hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on an Alaska vacation.

Cohen also said it's wrong that the Alaska Travel Industry Association, a state tourism marketing association, is working to defeat the ballot measure. ATIA, which gets about half of its roughly $10 million budget from the state, is waging a get-out-the-vote campaign against Ballot Measure 2.

"They're not a (political action committee). They're not supposed to be a lobby, yet they're on the leading edge of this effort," Cohen said.

ATIA frequently takes stands on issues that affect its members, said Dave Worrell, communications director. It uses membership dues and not state marketing dollars to do that, he said.


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