Murkowski to keep state race out of federal office

Staff says senator trying to avoid breach of ethics; opponent's camp says he doesn't want to discuss issues

Posted: Monday, September 09, 2002

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, the Republican nominee for governor, says he will not respond to campaign questions from reporters while in congressional buildings.

At a news conference with Alaska reporters outside his office in the Senate Hart Office Building, Murkowski declined an opportunity to comment on Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer's recently announced fiscal plan for Alaska. Ulmer won the Democratic primary Aug. 27.

"I would prefer to keep the understanding that we have that we will talk about political activities off the federal premises," Murkowski said, adding his campaign already had put out a news release on the subject.

Reporter Seth Linden of KTUU-TV in Anchorage noted the news release provided no candid, live response. Murkowski offered to set up a separate interview outside the Hart Building at some later point.

"Now we'll argue about who owns the sidewalk ... but clearly this is a Senate building and I've made a decision not to discuss my campaign in Senate facilities," he said Thursday.

Murkowski, who will spend most of the next month in Washington, D.C., expressed similar concerns at earlier meetings with Alaska media. During a July news conference at his "hideaway," a small office in the Capitol, reporters asked the senator about Ulmer's economic plan for the state.

Murkowski quipped that the plan reminded him of his own ideas, but declined to elaborate. He said it was not appropriate, given the location.

Murkowski spokesman Chuck Kleeschulte told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner his boss is sensitive to the issue because of the trouble in which former Vice President Al Gore found himself after making fund-raising phone calls from the White House.

An Ulmer spokesman said Murkowski's approach is more calculated.

"I don't think he wants to talk about issues," said Jason Moore in Anchorage.

Dan Saddler, Murkowski's campaign spokesman in Anchorage, called that characterization unfair.

"Frank Murkowski is aware of the need to maintain distance between campaigning and fulfilling the duties of his office," Saddler said. "It is an important distinction for candidates to understand and I'm glad that our candidate is aware of it and is abiding by that distinction."

Linden, the KTUU reporter, prefaced his question about Ulmer's fiscal plan by saying that perhaps the senator could talk "since I'm asking the question," as opposed to Murkowski making a campaign announcement.

Murkowski did not accept the distinction.

"Once the door opens, as you know, it's open from now on, so we're just not going to open the door," Murkowski said. "Now, what any of my opponents may do on state facilities is their business. You might ask them."

Moore said Ulmer probably would not sit down in her state office for an interview about campaign issues, but would likely answer campaign-related questions from reporters in public buildings or at official events.

The 528-page manual published by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics does not address the issue.

"Official resources may only be used for official purposes," the manual states. "It is thus inappropriate to use any official resources to conduct campaign or political activities."

However, the manual notes, the committee "has long acknowledged that there may be some inadvertent and minimal overlap between the conduct of official Senate duties and campaign activities."

For example, it says, offices may store small amounts of campaign materials needed for reference purposes.

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