Murkowski's Asia tour cost state more than $100,000

Gov. Palin says she's concerned about price tag

Posted: Thursday, January 04, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Former Gov. Frank Murkowski's Asia trade mission during his last days in office cost the state about $114,000, the Anchorage Daily News reported in its Wednesday edition.

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In response to a request for information under Alaska's public-records law, the governor's office furnished receipts, travel authorization forms, itineraries and other documentation incurred by Murkowski and a dozen state employees who made at least part of the 11-day trip to Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. The trip ended Nov. 9.

Gov. Sarah Palin said she was concerned about the reported price tag.

"We're unaware of the purpose of the trip, but as a fiscal conservative, I can tell you that it is difficult to understand whether the value of the trip is truly equivalent to the cost to Alaskans," Palin said through her spokeswoman, Meghan Stapleton.

Murkowski's trip receipts show about $7,000 for airfare, roughly $3,000 for lodging at $400 to $600 a night, and $2,200 in meals and other expenses, including a $1,064 restaurant bill in Japan.

The documentation also includes a $693 receipt from Anchorage fine arts shop Artique Ltd. for Alaska-theme platters and pottery given as gifts to Taiwanese officials. Other items include $10,000 in ground transportation in Japan and $1,450 for rented cell phones. A memo in the package says state cell phones don't work in Asia.

Critics have called the trip a junket, but Murkowski and other officials who made the trip said it was important because it enabled them to promote Alaska exports such as fish and coal as well as tourism.

Murkowski lost the Republican primary in August and took the Asia trip two months later. He said he still would have gone had he won but he would have postponed the trip until after the first of the year. Since he lost the primary, he moved up the schedule, he said.

Murkowski's itinerary included participating in a meeting of the Taiwan-Alaska Trade and Investment Cooperation Council, an Alaska tourism seminar and meetings with Taiwanese, Japanese and Korean business executives.

State officials who took all or part of the trip included Margy Johnson, Murkowski's international trade director at the time, officials with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, and the Department of Natural Resources.

Private-sector executives who participated in the trip paid their own way.

The trip's estimated cost does not include about $6,000 that the Taiwan government paid to cover the hotel bills of Murkowski, his wife, Nancy, and four staff members, according to Linda Perez, the governor's administrative director.

She said the Taiwan government also is expected to reimburse part of the cost of the Murkowskis' travel.

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