Watchdog Group Finds That Officers Of The First Things First Alaska Foundation Would Personally Profit From Opening Up The Tongass National Forest
Helena, MT — Today, Western Values Project released new research revealing that one of the main beneficiaries of the proposed lifting of the roadless rule in the Tongass National Forest is the First Things First Alaska Foundation (FTFAF), an organization that has been advocating for repealing the rule. Despite its nonprofit status, FTFAF’s executives are tied to commercial interests that would all stand to benefit from environmental protections in the Tongass being lifted.
“Private corporations are using this front-group to push destructive proposals to profit off of public lands that belong to all Americans,” said Jayson O’Neill, Western Values Project Director. “The Trump administration should be working overtime to protect our public lands, but instead they are working to eliminate protections for the iconic Tongass National Forest for narrow corporate special interests.”
Western Values Project found that at least four FTFAF executives would personally benefit from the roadless rule being repealed:
The Trump administration is weighing rolling back the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which would result in lifting protections on more than 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest, one of the world’s last intact temperate rainforests. The majority of Alaskans that live near the forest oppose logging these lands or support logging only in areas where logging roads already exist.
If the repeal goes forward, this would be just the latest instance of politically-connected special interests benefitting from the administration’s rolling back environmental protections. Learn more about the special interests fueling the Trump administration at Accountable.US.
Although It Has Nonprofit Status, FTFAF’s Officers Stand To Personally Profit From Opening Up the Tongass National Rainforest; The Organization Also Has Ties To The Murkowski Family.
FTFAF Officers are Tied to Commercial Interests in the Tongass.
At Least Four FTFAF Executives Are Tied To Commercial Interests That Stand To Benefit From Environmental Protections In The Tongass Being Lifted.
Treasurer Frank Bergstrom owns Amerikanuak Alaska, a mining company, and is the Juneau Branch Director of the Alaska Miners Association. He has used his position at FTFAF to advocate for pro-mining policies in southeast Alaska.
FTFAF Executives Have Connections To The Murkowski Family.
FTFAF Executive Director Denny DeWitt Worked In Governor Frank Murkowski’s Budget Office And Was Later Personally Thanked By Sen. Lisa Murkowski For His Support
Denny DeWitt Is The Executive Director Of FTFAF. [First Things First Alaska 2018 990 Form]
DeWitt Worked In Governor’s Frank Murkowski’s OMB While Jim Clark Served As Murkowski’s Chief Of Staff. “Gov.-elect Frank Murkowski named three people Wednesday to head key posts in his administration overseeing the budget, legal matters and day-to-day state operations…Frasca served as deputy chief of staff to Gov. Walter J. Hickel from 1993-1994 and has also worked for the OMB staff prior to that. Frasca also operated a lobbying firm in Juneau after leaving the Hickel administration…Also named to assist Frasca were former state Sen. Sean Parnell, former lawmakers Steve Frank, Mark Hanley and Eldon Mulder, former OMB director Jay Hogan and legislative assistant Denny Dewitt.” [Associated Press State & Local Wire, 11/20/02]
Sen. Lisa Murkowski Sent A Letter Personally Thanking DeWitt For His Support Of A Bill. “In a letter to NFIB/Alaska State Director Denny DeWitt, Sen. Lisa Murkowski thanked small business for its support for a Congressional bill that would Section 179 expensing and increase the level from $200,000 to $500,000.” [States News Service, 4/23/16]
FTFAF Has Had Questionable Financial Activity And Potentially Committed Lobbying Violations.
FTFAF’s Questionable Financial Activity
The past two years FTFAF has gotten most of their revenue from a combination of donations and running games, such as bingo. From 2016-2014 FTFAF did not file 990s. From 2013-2011 FTFAF only brought in revenue (less than $8,000 each year) from gifts.
Suspiciously, though, the money they invested into the gaming fundraisers ($504,000 in 2018, $391,000 in 2017) far surpasses their annual revenue ($52,000 in 2018, $66,000 in 2017)—and the profits from the games ($34,000 in 2018, $25,000 in 2017) seems low for the initial investment.
FTFAF’s Potential Lobbying Violations
None of the officers for FTFAF have registered to lobby, nor has the group ever reported lobbying on its filings with the IRS or to the state of Alaska. It does not have an affiliated c4.
September 2011: FTFAF claimed that they sent surveys to city and borough of Juneau candidates.
April 2013: FTFAF wrote a letter to Alaska state senator Bert Stedman urging him to support a bill that would open the Tongass to logging.