Knowles is wrong to let BP pay legal bills

Posted: Monday, February 14, 2000

The following editorial appeared in Thursday's Anchorage Daily News:

Gov. Tony Knowles' response to the BP Amoco takeover of Atlantic Richfield Co. is open to debate. But there should be no debate about his decision to send BP the legal bills from the Federal Trade Commission fight.

Gov. Knowles is wrong, wrong, wrong.

His decision is immature, inept and indefensible.

Asking a private company to pay a state's legal bills in a political battle is unheard of and absurd.

Would Gov. Bill Egan have asked the oil companies to pay his bills during the fight for authorization of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline?

Would Gov. Jay Hammond have asked the fishing industry to pay his bills during the limited-entry struggle?

Would Gov. Walter J. Hickel have asked the state Chamber of Commerce to pay his bills during his states' rights battles with the federal government?

For that matter, would Gov. Knowles let the timber industry pay his expenses in his attempt to change development policy in the Tongass National Forest?

If the governor is doing what he believes is best for Alaska before the FTC, then the state should pay its own way. We have the money, the legal talent in the attorney general's office and access to able private consultants.

If, on the other hand, the state is nothing more than a ``partnering'' shill for the company then, sure, let's have BP pick up the check - but let's also be upfront about whose interests are paramount. And while BP is writing checks, the company can pay the governor's salary, too.

Perhaps Gov. Knowles feels insulted by such language, but the real insult here is to the people of Alaska who are forced to participate in his folly.

What is the governor going to do if the state and BP have a divergence of interests in the coming months? What is he going to do if he obtains information about the merger that makes him want to modify his position - or to talk candidly in public about his concerns?

And how is he going to get regulators in Washington and politicians in Oregon and California to take him seriously when they know BP is paying for his arguments?

It also is important to note a legislative consequence of his decision to bill BP. By law, the Legislature has the power of the purse. Lawmakers can withhold financial support from a governor if they disapprove of his actions. But now the governor and his lawyers are answerable to BP paymasters.

If legislators don't like the governor's legal stance, there is nothing they can do about it except whine to BP.

The governor's arrogance is breathtaking. He has ignored the experience of his predecessors, the powers of the Legislature and the concerns of many of his constituents.

From the day BP's takeover was announced, Gov. Knowles has made ``trust me'' the shaky foundation of his takeover policy. Trust me to work out the best deal for Alaska. Trust me to ensure competition on the North Slope. Trust me to provide a public hearing process that works.

Now it's trust me, I'm going to let our lawyers work directly for BP.

Well governor, we have had it with ``trust me'' politics.

Alaskans are not panhandlers who must go hat in hand to BP as if the giant oil company were the Legal Aid Society or the public defender. Alaskans have the pride to pay their bills - and you should too.

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