Governor's office asks for ruling on jet use

Murkowski acknowledges campaigning during several state-funded business trips

Posted: Thursday, August 17, 2006

JUNEAU - Gov. Frank Murkowski's re-election campaign is setting aside $5,000 in case the Alaska Public Offices Commission says he must reimburse the governor's office for using the state jet for campaigning.

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Linda Perez, the governor's administrative director, last week requested an APOC advisory opinion on Murkowski's use of the state jet for campaign events along with official business.

The Republican incumbent is in a heated primary race to keep his seat against challengers John Binkley of Fairbanks and Sarah Palin of Wasilla.

Murkowski reported no travel expenses for the first two months of the campaign, according to his last APOC disclosure statement.

However, the governor racked up 11,277 miles in travel across Alaska in the state jet in the campaign's first 51 days, according to Department of Public Safety records. The department estimates those trips cost the state $25,166.

By comparison, the previous 51 days, from April 4 through May 24, Murkowski used the jet to travel just 5,404 miles in the state.

Perez included in her letter a recent attorney general's opinion that says the governor's use of the state jet to travel to partisan political activities would not be an ethical breach "if performance of official duties is truly the purpose of the trip."

Murkowski has insisted that the campaigning is secondary to state business on those trips, although he acknowledges that he does campaign during them.

Perez wrote that the governor's office wants to know from APOC "how such partisan political activities collateral to the primary, official purpose of such a trip should be reported."

As a result, Murkowski campaign coordinator Linda Shatler submitted a letter to APOC late Tuesday night saying the campaign has created a reserve fund of $5,000.

"The purpose of this is to have funds available to pay for potential travel costs for the candidate pending an advisory opinion from the APOC board on the new travel statute. Please advise if any additional action is required," Shatler wrote.

The Murkowski re-election campaign did not return a call for comment Wednesday morning.

Chris Ellingson, APOC's assistant director, said advisory opinion requests normally come from campaigns and not from the administration, but Perez wants to know if she should authorize payment of those travel expenses.

Ellingson said APOC officials are preparing a response that should be ready by Friday.

The letter from Murkowski's campaign was filed with the governor's one-week campaign disclosure reports, which were due on Tuesday. Murkowski reported a negative cash flow since his last filing, with the campaign taking in about $109,000 in contributions but spending more than $179,000 in the expensive primary race.

The governor's campaign was running a $25,167 deficit with a week to go before the Aug. 22 primary.

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