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Consulting work pays off big for Alaska legislators

Sen. Ben Stevens picks up $300,000 last year; Scott Ogan quits $40,000 consulting job after his constituents grouse

Posted: Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Consulting work is paying off for some Alaska legislators.

For instance, Sen. Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage, made more than $300,000 from consulting last year, working for companies whose executives also gave thousands to his most recent political campaign.

Stevens is not alone. Anchorage Rep. Tom Anderson collected $30,000 in consulting fees last year, and Anchorage Rep. Lesil McGuire reported $10,500 in consulting fees.

Anderson and Stevens shared a major client: the oil field and construction services company Veco, which has helped finance both men's election campaigns and those of dozens of other Republican candidates.

McGuire, an Anchorage Republican who has a law degree, told the Alaska Public Offices Commission that she was hired by Providence Alaska Medical Center to review legal documents. She did not return calls from the Anchorage Daily News seeking a fuller explanation.

Stevens, the son of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, has worked as a consultant for Veco since before Gov. Tony Knowles appointed him in 2001 to fill a vacant seat in the state Senate. His contract for "business services" with Veco last year was $47,500, according to the state reports.

Anderson just started working for Veco last year when he got a $10,000 contract for "consulting on local government and community council affairs," according to the reports he filed with the state.

Consulting work presented some difficulties for Sen. Scott Ogan, who quit his $40,000 consulting job with Evergreen Resources in the face of conflict of interest allegations.

Evergreen was pushing for legislation affecting its business, coal bed methane development, while Ogan was its consultant. Now Ogan is fighting a recall effort.

Unlike Ogan, Stevens and Anderson were both professional consultants before being elected to the Legislature. But Ogan's experience has focused attention on what lawmakers do to make a living.

Consultants aren't the only lawmakers whose careers overlap with the business of the Legislature. Financial disclosure reports show, for example, that Sen. Gretchen Guess, D-Anchorage, works for Alaska Communications Systems, a company embroiled in the telephone wars that often spill over into the Legislature.

Rep. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, works for Conoco Phillips, a big player on issues ranging from oil taxes to incentives for a natural gas pipeline.

Leah Rush, state projects director for the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., argues that legislators who work as consultants choose whether or not to do work for a company active in politics.

"They're for hire," she said. "So it's a little bit different than someone who is working for a company or owning their own company."

Rush said it's especially important for the public to know when consultants are getting campaign contributions from companies that also hire them. That's the case with both Stevens and Anderson.

Stevens, the influential Republican majority leader of the state Senate, didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

Anderson said government affairs and public relations consulting are jobs in which he has experience, and he doesn't let it conflict with his legislative duties.

The state pays legislators $24,012 in base salary. They also get another $23,000 or so in per-diem, meant in part to help cover living expenses while they are away from home during the four months when the Legislature is in session.

Lawmakers often get additional thousands for doing state work when the Legislature isn't in session.

Anderson said he's careful to avoid a conflict and hasn't pushed the interests of his employers.

"At the end of the day, I have to answer first, certainly, to myself in terms of integrity and honesty," Anderson said. "And a close second is to my constituents."

Anderson received about $4,000 in Veco-related contributions in his 2002 House race.

Stevens isn't up for election this year, but he received more than $12,000 in Veco contributions for his 2002 election campaign.



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