School district cries foul over Murkowski letter

Senator defends using district e-mail addresses for campaign message

Posted: Friday, September 17, 2004

ANCHORAGE - An endorsement letter sent by the Lisa Murkowski for Senate campaign to thousands of Anchorage school employees through district e-mail was a flagrant violation of district policies, according to Superintendent Carol Comeau.

The Murkowski campaign says it was just an adept use of electronic addresses on the district's Web site that are available to anyone.

"I'm furious," Comeau told the Anchorage Daily News on Wednesday. She said she would report the campaign e-mail to relevant oversight agencies.

"We thoroughly examined the e-mail policy available on their Web site," Murkowski campaign spokes-man Elliott Bundy said. It says employees are not to use the e-mail system for political activity, he said, but "it's silent on the subject of receiving any e-mail."

Pro-Murkowski messages also were e-mailed to employees of other school districts, he said.

The Anchorage e-mail, signed by former Anchorage Education Association President Bob Roses, lauds Murkowski for her efforts in Washington on behalf of schools and educators in Alaska. The campaign sent it out Wednesday.

A Murkowski spokesman said it was timed to reach teachers as the National Education Association-Alaska prepares to meet with candidates Saturday to consider a union endorsement.

Roses said he cautioned Murkowski campaign aide Tim Sullivan when he learned Sullivan planned to e-mail the letter to employees. Roses, a retired teacher, said he told Sullivan that "in the past the district (has been) very guarded in the ways e-mail is to be used" and advised him to contact school officials before going ahead.

Bundy said the campaign considered that advice, reviewed the district's e-mail guidelines and decided it was unnecessary to contact the district.

The endorsement arrived in school employees' computers shortly before 9 a.m. Comeau estimated it reached 4,500 to 5,000 people.

"I plan to tell (the Murkowski campaign) in no uncertain terms did they have authority to do this," she said. Comeau described the e-mailed endorsement as "a blatant violation of our nonpartisan policies." District employees are forbidden from politicking while at work and from using district equipment for political ends, she said.

Knowles campaign spokesman Matt McKenna said Murkowski is trying to make up ground just before the teachers' union endorsement meeting Saturday.

"We've been working all summer, person to person, and we've signed up more than 900 teachers supporting Tony Knowles, from Metlakatla to Barrow," McKenna said. "I'm surprised but not shocked that Senator Murkowski had to cheat ... to round up support from teachers."

"Again, our primary motivation was to reach as many NEA members as quickly as we could, to educate them on the fact this (the union's endorsement meeting) was happening,' Bundy said. "We understand Carol's position, but we're a little surprised that someone like the superintendent would not want all their employees to know this is going on."

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