Panel clears Mulder in cruise ship case

Ethics committee says state rep used 'poor judgment'

Posted: Monday, September 24, 2001

State Rep. Eldon Mulder used "poor judgment" in pushing a bill relating to the cruise ship industry at a time when his wife was employed by its lobbyist, but he did not violate ethics rules, a state panel concluded.

After a four-month investigation, the subcommittee of the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics cleared Mulder of allegations he used his elected office for personal benefit.

The panel recommended Mulder, a five-term Republican from Anchorage, and his staff attend ethics training in January "in an effort to avoid actions that may result in the filing of additional ethics complaints."

Mulder called the charges against him "frivolous" and said he saw no conflict of interest.

Mulder helped shepherd a bill through the Legislature last session relating to cruise industry regulation at a time when his wife worked for the industry's chief lobbyist. Wendy Mulder worked as office manager for Joe Hayes, who held a contract with the North West CruiseShip Association. She earned $85,000, according to a financial disclosure statement.

Eldon Mulder introduced the bill in April. It was referred to just one committee the House Finance Committee, which he co-chairs and passed to the floor.

"Representative Mulder could have avoided this appearance of impropriety by declining to personally facilitate the cruise ship bill," wrote H. Conner Thomas of the ethics committee.

Mulder co-sponsored the bill after consulting with House Speaker Brian Porter, an Anchorage Republican, and other House leaders as a way to produce a compromise on the issue, he said Friday.

"The governor was demanding a cruise ship bill and the members in my caucus were not interested," Mulder said. "My interest was to try and avoid a train wreck."

Stephen Conn, executive director of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group, filed the complaint against Mulder in May. He disagreed with the ethics panel's conclusion.

"You are left wondering if there is anything short of giving a bag of money to a lawmaker that would constitute a violation of the ethics code in the eyes of the committee," said Conn.

Mulder was cleared of ethics allegations in 1995 after pushing for two measures that would have benefited his wife's clients.

Wendy Mulder was hired by Eagle Insurance Group of Seattle to lobby for a workers compensation bill. She also was hired by Tower Properties to lobby for a $2.2 million extension of a state property lease.

In that ruling, the panel found no evidence of ethical wrongdoing, but cited him for allowing his wife to use his office for lobbying. Wendy Mulder also served as a volunteer in her husband's office.

Eldon Mulder was advised to establish a written policy to restrict nongovernment use of his office. Volunteers in his office were advised to take ethics training.

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