UPDATED: Levine campaign consultant Christian Ulvert released the following statement to the Miami Herald.
""Before Royal Media Partners began doing business in Alaska and entered the market, the Alaskan government asked all media companies involved in the cruise industry to begin putting greater disclaimers on all advertising mediums. Once this issue was brought to the attention of Royal Media Partners, they joined the State of Alaska in their consent decree as willing partners to make sure that the updated standards were put in place to protect consumers. All funds collected through the agreement went directly towards increasing consumer protection standards."
Accused of bullying Alaskan retailers, two corporations founded by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine entered into consent decrees with the state in 2013 and paid hefty settlements.
Royal Media Partners, created by Levine in 2011, was among three cruise line contractors accused of strong-arm tactics in ports of call in the northern state. Local retailers complained that the company, along with Fort Lauderdale’s Panoff Publishing and Onboard Media -- founded in 1990 by Levine and sold in 2000 -- required retailers to pay fees and commissions in order for company guides to steer passengers to their shops after ships docked at port.
The companies, contractors for the majority of the cruise lines that docked at Ketchican and other port cities, provided guides for the ships, as well as promotional materials and informational pamphlets. Retailers who didn't participate complained that they were disparaged by port lecturers. Some referred to the business model as "kickbacks."
The contractors admitted no wrongdoing when signing the consent judgments, which were reported in Alaska at the time. The settlements were resurrected Tuesday by the Miami New Times in a profile of Levine, now a serious contender to claim the Democratic nomination for governor.
At the time the consent judgments were signed, the Alaska Attorney General’s office told reporters that lawsuits alleging violations of Alaska’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act would have been filed were it not for the settlements. But with the companies cooperating, the state secured court-sanctioned agreements that ensured company representatives would not disparage local retailers who chose not to pay. The agreement also guaranteed that representatives would disclose that they were paid to recommend retailers to shoppers, and that the stores to which passengers were referred were not selected due to price savings or the quality of their products.
Together, the three companies paid a total of $200,000, with Royal Media Partners paying $45,000. The money was paid into a kitty to fund investigations, enforcement and education efforts.
Levine told the Miami New Times that his company was caught in a local dispute between retailers who wanted more of the services provided by his company, and those that were opposed to the business model. Lew Williams, the mayor of Ketchican, was critical of the contractors but made similar comments about the divide among Alaskan retailers in a 2013 interview with Travel Weekly.
"When the attorney general brought it to our attention... we all complied immediately," Levine told the publication. "We said, 'We're very happy to comply with anything. Whatever types of disclaimers that you guys would want, we're more than happy to do. For us it was a minor issue; it wasn't a big deal.'"