Legislature pays fees for aide's ethics breach

Berkowitz says GOP is spending public funds for Republican business

Posted: Wednesday, January 29, 2003

The Legislature will pay nearly $7,000 for legal fees incurred by Senate Republican majority press secretary Ron Irwin as a result of an ethics complaint.

The Legislative Council, which oversees much of the Legislature's internal management, voted to pay his legal bills on Tuesday. But the panel will not back an appeal to the state court.

Sen. Robin Taylor, a Wrangell Republican, said the expense was appropriate and called it the "cost of doing business." Taylor is chairman of the council.

Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat, cast the lone vote against the motion and accused Republicans of spending public money for a GOP activity.

Irwin was cited by the Senate Subcommittee of the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics for calling a news conference during the election to blast a speech by then-gubernatorial candidate Fran Ulmer.

The ethics panel found that the press release sent by Irwin constituted partisan political activity but recommended no penalty. The infraction was minor and the press conference was canceled, it said in a written opinion.

Irwin maintained he did nothing wrong and hired attorney Ken Jacobus to represent him during an ethics hearing. Jacobus submitted a bill for $6,913.

Republicans defended the expense as justified and argued the ethics law is unclear and Irwin was acting within the scope of his job.

Irwin had sent an e-mail on Sept. 4 to announce a press conference with majority lawmakers to respond to a campaign speech by Ulmer, a Democrat. The press release said GOP lawmakers would talk about "serious ramifications of a tax-and-spend plan" proposed by Ulmer.

Irwin had planned to hold the event at the Legislative Information Office in Anchorage, but canceled after other legislative aides and ethics committee staff said it could violate the ethics law.

Irwin has said previously that he would appeal the ethics ruling in state court, but said Tuesday he was unsure whether he will pursue the case.

The Legislative Council on Tuesday refused to take on the expense of the appeal. Senate President Gene Therriault, a North Pole Republican, who serves on the committee, said lawmakers will consider legislation to clarify the ethics law.



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