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Utilities' fund-raising outpaces buy-the-dam group by 10-to-1

Utilities' fund-raising outpaces buy-the-dam group by 10-to-1

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HELENA - The two utilities opposing the proposed buy-the-dams initiative have raised more than 10 times as much as the measure's advocates and put three employees on the payroll to fight the proposal.

From March through May 5, Energy Producers Against Property Confiscation, the group formed by PPL Montana and Avista (formerly Washington Water Power) has raised $155,097 and spent $121,919 to leave a balance of $33,176. The utility group raised $80,040 and spent $106,293 during the latest one-month period.

Backers of Dam Cheap Power, the group gathering signatures to put Initiative 145 on the November ballot, has collected $14,435 from Feb. 8 through May 5 and spent $5,240 to leave a cash balance of $9,195. During the latest one-month period, the committee raised $9,165 and spent $3,220.

The initiative would create an elected, five member Montana Public Power Commission to analyze existing privately owned dams to determine whether it makes sense for the state to buy and run them. If so, the commission would negotiate with PPL Montana and Avista, and if they failed to agree on a price, the commission, which would be given eminent domain powers, could condemn the dams and pay market value for them.

The PPL Montana dams are those formerly owned by Montana Power Co. before it sold them in 1999, while Avista has a dam at Noxon.

The state would be granted up to $500 million in bonding authority to buy the dams and finance them with revenue bonds paid for by power sales, not tax money.

I-145 backers have until June 21 to collect and submit the signatures. They must obtain the signatures of 20,510 registered voters or 5 percent of Montana voters, including 5 percent of the voters in 34 of the 100 state House districts, to qualify the measure for the ballot.

The campaign finance report filed by Energy Producers Against Property Confiscation showed it has put three employees on the payroll.

Heading the effort is Joe Roberts of Helena, a former state senator from Libby and running mate in Gov. Thomas L. Judge's losing bid for a third term for governor in 1980. Jim Driscoll, former Democratic politico and son of state AFL-CIO chief Jerry Driscoll, also is on the campaign team. Former Rep. Chris Ahner, R-Helena, is also working for the campaign against I-145 and serving as office manager.

PPL's own political action committee, the PPL Incidental Committee to Oppose Dams Initiative, based in Billings, donated $60,000 to the anti-initiative campaign, while Avista Clark Fork Project Protection Committee, based in Spokane, kicked in $20,000. No one else donated to the campaign.

The campaign paid Woodward & McDowell of Burlingame, Calif., $50,000 for consulting and $36,000 for voter research. This is on top of the $309,973 that the PPL PAC paid the California consulting firm earlier this year.

Not counted in these totals because they are in-kind donations are $44,096 in PPL's PAC expenses, including paying $38,857 for polls and consulting, and the Avista PAC's $11,579.

The anti-I-145 campaign reported debts of $13,041, including $3,961 to Woodward & McDowell, $1,200 to the West Coast Colonial Hotel in Helena for rent and other expense.

Meanwhile, the I-145 backers, Dam Cheap Power, reported collecting 122 donations from individual Montanans and a few businesses. Most of them were for $50 or $100. The Sheridan County Democratic Women's Club donated $50.

It received in-kind help worth $500 from the Montana Democratic Party for a list and $281 from Montana Environmental Information Center for salaries, benefits and office costs.

Dam Cheap Power's major expenses were $2,417 to Artcraft Printers of Butte for printing a letter and inserting and sealing it, and $600 to the U.S. Postal Service.

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