So-called 527 committees entered the public realm last year as a tool of campaigns and consultants to win elections. But in Alaska, one such group has found a new function: lobbying to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas development.
The Alaska to America Energy Initiative, a non-profit group exempt from taxes as a political organization under section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, reimbursed travel expenses of more than $2,500 last year for Kris Knauss, Gov. Frank Murkowski's policy director. On the group's dime, Knauss attended the Republican Governors Association November 2004 annual meeting, held in New Orleans, and passed around a resolution for other governors to sign that supported Alaska's push to develop ANWR's oil and gas resources.
"He was pursuing some ANWR advocacy, which is clearly a priority of this governor and of this state," Becky Hultberg, Gov. Murkowski's press secretary, told the Center for Public Integrity. According to the governor's staff, the resolution did not pass.
Many of the group's contributors have lobbied the Alaskan legislature on behalf of energy companies that wish to develop the Refuge. Murkowski, too, has been a steady champion of harvesting ANWR's resources.
ANWR's fate remains a contentious issue in Washington, D.C. Unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate has not included development of ANWR in its energy bill. To avoid a Senate filibuster, Republican congressional leaders reportedly plan to include ANWR development authorization in a budget bill.
Regulated by the IRS, 527 groups operate outside the reach of both federal and state campaign finance laws. In turn, the political non-profits can accept unlimited contributions from almost any source.