Native group wants stop to funding for conservation group

Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. is urging foundations to stop funding a nonprofit conservation group that opposes oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The local Native corporation, which represents the North Slope village of Kaktovik, sent a letter in January to foundations that support the Alaska Wilderness League.

The letter said the Native corporation was calling for an Internal Revenue Service investigation of illegal lobbying by the conservation group. The letter suggested that the foundations stop supporting the group, unless they want to pay back-taxes and penalties later.

Oil development could mean more tax dollars and jobs For Kaktovik, which sits roughly three miles north of ANWR's coastal plain. Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are set to debate whether to open the refuge for oil and gas exploration.

''We urge you to carefully consider the tax consequences of making contributions to a charitable organization that apparently spends most of its resources on lobbying expenditures,'' Kaktovik President Fenton Rexford wrote to the foundations.

Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Wilderness League, said the group has abided by IRS rules.

Shogan called the letters an attempt by pro-drilling forces to hobble anti-drilling efforts through a threat to its funders, especially when the debate over the Arctic refuge is at a peak. She said no foundations have taken the threat seriously so far.

''I just see it as another effort to get us off course by diverting our attention and resources,'' Shogan told the Anchorage Daily News. ''We are not going to be sidetracked.''

The Alaska Conservation Foundation was one foundation that received the letter.

''It appears to be highly threatening to the recipient,'' said Deborah Williams, the group's executive director. ''This is outrageous.''

Kim Duke, executive director of Arctic Power, a state-sponsored group that supports drilling in ANWR, said the letter from the Native corporation is a legitimate challenge.

''(The Alaska Wilderness League is) supposed to be strictly educational,'' she said.

Rexford said he simply wanted to make sure the foundations knew about his group's IRS request. In October, the Native corporation and the Native Village of Kaktovik asked the IRS to investigate how the Wilderness League spends its money. The accused the group of spending too much on lobbying, a violation of IRS rules for tax-exempt groups.

The IRS has three years to follow up on the complaint. Shogan said she won't know if the agency has taken the complaint seriously until she gets a request for documents.

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