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Panel finds no ethics conflict for lawmaker

Posted: Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Legislature's ethics committee Tuesday cleared the way for Rep. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, a top oil industry ally, to fully participate in deliberations about natural gas pipeline proposals.

Meyer's job with ConocoPhillips Co. - one of the companies proposing multibillion-dollar pipeline plans soon to be the subject of a special legislative session - does not present a conflict because he had no ownership stake in the company, the committee said.

Meyer has long said he didn't have a conflict of interest under state law and asked the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics for the advisory opinion that confirmed that. Meyer was not identified in the opinion, but made his name public after it OK'd his participation.

Meyer said he requested the opinion to "uphold the public's trust in the process."

The ethics committee Tuesday also dismissed a complaint against state Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Kodiak, but was critical of some of her actions.

Meyer has faced criticism for participating in debate and votes that would affect ConocoPhillips on earlier oil tax legislation. Meyer said he was anticipating similar complaints again.

Meyer regularly discloses where he works and says he didn't think it amounted to a conflict of interest under state law.

"I just wanted to make sure there wasn't any conflict of interest in the gas pipeline hearings we're going to have," he said.

The Alaska Legislature is scheduled to meet in special session beginning June 3 to consider a possible applicant under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act for an exclusive license offering a state subsidy in exchange for a pipeline that benefits Alaska.

ConocoPhillips is aggressively promoting its own pipeline, in partnership with BP, in competition with AGIA.

Legislative Democrats have questioned Meyer's involvement in the gas pipeline debate, as well as earlier oil tax legislation that also significantly affected ConocoPhillips.

"In oil taxes, I wasn't too concerned about that because it affected 10-20-30 companies, but with ConocoPhillips and BP having a competing proposal to AGIA or TransCanada, I thought this one might be a little bit closer," he said.

House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said that while Meyer was complying with the law, the law might need changing.

"When you work for a company that's appearing before you, I think it would be very difficult to put that out of your mind," she said.

Legislative rules not only appear to exempt lawmakers from conflict of interest laws, but legislators can be required to cast votes despite actual conflicts if even a single member objects to their abstaining.

In practice, multiple legislators object to any abstentions, and all legislators are required to vote on all issues.

Meyer regularly discloses his "potential" conflict of interest and also often steps down from chairing the House Finance Committee on oil and gas issues, handing the gavel to his co-chairman.

After the advisory opinion Tuesday, it appears Meyer is not even required to take that step.

Meyer has served in the House of Representatives since 2000, and is running for the Senate seat currently held by retiring Sen. John Cowdery, R-Anchorage.

LeDoux was cleared of charges she had used her legislative position to obtain a private benefit, but was criticized for not being fully candid in some statements.

LeDoux, who is running against U.S. Rep. Don Young for the Republican nomination for Alaska's single seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, said she took responsibility for any errors in communication but said she felt she'd been truthful.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or e-mail patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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