Governor: GOP head disappoints

Ruedrich is target of ethics complaint that he mixed politics, state job

Posted: Sunday, April 18, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Gov. Frank Murkowski said he was disappointed in the poor judgment of Alaska Republican Party chairman Randy Ruedrich, the target of a state ethics complaint for allegedly mixing political work with his state job.

Democrats in the state Senate, meanwhile, called for the state to broaden its Ruedrich investigation to look at other Murkowski administration officials. They want a special prosecutor appointed from outside the administration to do it.

Murkowski, a Republican, in February 2003 appointed the leader of his party to an $118,000-a-year state job as one of three members of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Ruedrich assured lawmakers he would not mix state work with party business.

Amid complaints that he was doing that, the state began an ethics investigation in November and Ruedrich resigned from his commission job three days later.

The state's investigation and ethics complaint against Ruedrich became public this week when Ruedrich waived his right to confidentiality.

Ruedrich has three decades of experience in the oil and gas industry.

"Clearly with his background in oil and gas he was qualified for the job" on the state commission, Murkowski said.

"Secondly, I was disappointed that he allegedly used his office for political purposes. That was poor judgment. He resigned. And now we will await the results of the investigation," the governor said.

The state's complaint alleges that Ruedrich used his state office to do party work such as plot political strategy and plan fund-raisers. The state also alleged that Ruedrich leaked a confidential state legal document to a lobbyist for Evergreen Resources, a company pushing coal bed methane development in the Matanuska-Susitna area.

Ruedrich has contested most of the allegations, saying his political activities on the job at the state oil and gas commission were minor and did not violate the state's ethics law.

He acknowledged leaking the legal document to an oil and gas lobbyist, saying it "was an isolated mistake" and that he did not realize until after he sent the document that it was marked confidential.

Ruedrich offered a brief comment Thursday in response to the governor's remarks.

"The allegations individually were responded to as being not correct, and we will work with the Department of Law to complete the investigation," Ruedrich said.

Asked whether Ruedrich should remain as head of the state Republican Party, Murkowski said, "Let's wait for the final resolve of the investigation. ... I think the Republican Party will make that decision."

State investigators are reviewing Ruedrich's response to the state complaint before deciding whether to pursue the allegations. Ruedrich could face a maximum $5,000 fine for each of three broad violations.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, a former state prosecutor, said Thursday he was shocked at the activities revealed in the state's complaint.

"It's obvious from the complaint and the materials that the A.G.'s office has supplied that there was an enormous amount of Republican Party business being conducted from Mr. Ruedrich's comfortable $118,000-a-year state office perch," the Democrat said.

French said the material also implicates other state employees corresponding on political matters with Ruedrich at his state e-mail.

A special prosecutor outside of the attorney general's office is needed to look into e-mail exchanges Ruedrich had with Murkowski administration officials and see if there are others who violated ethics law, he said.

French and Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, pointed to e-mail exchanges that Ruedrich had with Jim Clark, the governor's chief of staff. Ellis said the Democrats fought against Ruedrich's appointment to the state job, and his e-mails with Clark "confirmed our worst fears."

Documents released by the state show Ruedrich e-mailed Clark, during the workday and using his state e-mail account, about a political poll the two were working and to lobby for two "loyal" Republicans to get state jobs.

Clark also sent an e-mail from his governor's office e-mail to Ruedrich's state account regarding a request from national Republicans to get Alaska contributions for President Bush's re-election bid.

Clark said Thursday that he does not know how to use a computer and does not send his own e-mail. He is known at the Capitol for having his secretary print out and deliver e-mails he gets. He dictates his e-mails and has her send them. Clark said he told her only to send e-mails to Ruedrich's private account and that he does not know how the Bush fund-raising transmission ended up being sent to the state account.

Clark also responded to suggestions he should have acted when he saw that Ruedrich was sending him political e-mails from Clark's state computer.

"How do you know I didn't?" he replied. Clark said that he couldn't elaborate, given that Ruedrich is under investigation by the state.

Barbara Ritchie, the state lawyer overseeing the case, said she did not see justification for a special prosecutor or to broaden the scope of the state's investigation beyond Ruedrich.

Ritchie said only a couple of e-mails between Clark and Ruedrich could be considered as even potentially an issue, but there were not enough of them to constitute a potential ethics violation.

The ethics act allows work that might be considered partisan if the person has "the intent to benefit the public at large through the normal performance of duties." Clark's duties are a lot broader than Ruedrich's were at the oil and gas commission, she said.

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