The Return of the Murkowski-Young Sealaska Earmark

The spirit of Ted Stevens is alive and well, and the Alaskan delegation’s renewed efforts to smuggle Juneau-based Sealaska Corporation’s earmark through the unaccountable lame duck Congress is powerful testimony to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Rep. Don Young’s (R-Alaska) dogged loyalty, not to their constituents or the nation, but to the powerful corporate interests responsible for their elections.

Sealaska Corporation, a native-owned corporation that has thrived on government handouts since its formation in 1971, is back at the government trough, seeking to renegotiate long-settled native land claims at tremendous loss to the tax-paying public. Eager to satiate the desires of their most generous campaign supporters, Murkowski and Young have championed Sealaska’s land-grab legislation as a righteous resolution of legitimate cultural grievances. But a candid review of the Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act and the political circumstances surrounding it reveals a taxpayer-funded quid pro quo in the making.

Sealaska’s bill is nothing if not an earmark, and while conservatives in Congress have a lot on their dinner plates, principle demands taking a stand against a scheme so emblematic of the abuse of public trust all too pervasive in today’s America. Despite the Republican ban on earmarks, a version of the Sealaska land bill (HR.1408) passed the House of Representatives in June, but only because it is a tremendously complicated, quite subtle earmark that was bound up with several conservative constituent-pleasers including an NRA-backed proposal. While the bill is unlikely pass as part of the original House conglomeration, Sealaska’s policy in particular is gaining traction, thanks, in part, to a pile of aging land-use bills Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would like to see passed as soon as possible. King Reid’s will usually prevails, and the Sealaska bill is perfect bait to charm Murkowski’s ostensibly Republican vote in his favor, not only for his Nevada-centric bills, but for whatever garbage winds up in the eventual cliff-averting grand bargain.

Although Young wants the Sealaska bill to pass as badly as Murkowkski, the bill is singularly important to the latter Alaskan lawmaker because the corporation coughed up $1.7 million for her 2010 reelection campaign. In a particular egregious instance of purchasing political clout, Sealaska Corporation generously funded—and , in large part, operated—Murkowski’s write-in campaign after she lost to Tea Party favorite and Fairbanks-based attorney Joe Miller. Despite the Alaskan GOP’s clear rejection of the Murkowski Monarchy, she remained in power because Miller, wishing to represent Alaskans rather than merely Sealaskans, opposed the corporate land grab. Executives of the corporation abhorred the thought of being weaned off the public teat, and so they collaborated with Murkowski and her lackeys, ultimately jointly executing the single most effective write-in campaign victory in American political history, bar none.

Despite the open and obvious will of the Alaskan GOP, Murkowski was welcomed back into the national Republican apparatus because a single senate vote was critically important in the pre-Obamacare days. Having retained power for at least another six years, Murkowski’s top priority was to attend to her financier’s desires. So Sealaska’s landgrab legislation, which had languished in various forms in Congress for the past decade, was reintroduced with renewed vigor in 2011. And Murkowski was joined in the effort by Don Young…

According to proponents of the Sealaska bill, the legislation is needed to finalize native land claims. In truth, Sealaska’s executives want the bill because it will significantly enrich the company’s top executives by transferring to their ownership more than 70,000 acres of public owned land including extensive infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges and log transfer sites. But the true value of the land is neither real estate nor taxpayer-funded roadways, but old-growth trees that started growing before the Revolutionary War. Sealaska does not conceal the fact that it wants to clear-cut ancient stands in the Tongass National Forest – they have done so on prior land claims – and sell the timber in Asia. Where, presumably, it will be turned into chairs and tables and sold back into America.

So while lawmakers and the media fret endlessly over cliffs and chasms, behind the closed doors of Congress a bipartisan cadre is quietly plotting on how best to sneak through pet legislation for their corporate cronies. Murkowski is hardly the only lawmaker following the oft-repeated mantra of Rahm Emanuel – never let a crisis go to waste. Sadly, the Sealaska land-grab threatens to destroy the communities and livelihoods of voiceless Alaskans whose wishes are unimportant to representatives beholden only to the overlords who allow them to remain in power.

S.E. Robinson, a Maine native and graduate of Bowdoin College, is an investigative reporter with a passion for fishing, firearms and freedom. His work has been featured in Human Events, National Review Online, and TheBlaze.