Commission rushes to finish VECO report before start of special session

Investigators look into surveying lawmakers about illegal polls

Posted: Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Before the Alaska Legislature starts meeting in a special session on Oct. 18 to rework oil taxes, the Alaska Public Offices Commission hopes to report on VECO Corp.'s illegal influence in the Legislature.

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"The investigation is in high gear," said Brooke Miles, the commission's executive director. "We're making very good progress."

Miles said the commission is first looking into polls VECO executives reported that they financed for legislative candidates. That is likely to be done within two weeks and may involve surveying every legislator.

At an APOC meeting in Anchorage on Monday, commissioners suggested that staff investigators survey not just all 60 sitting legislators, but all candidates for the Legislature or governorship last year.

Commissioner Elizabeth Hickerson warned that "micro-managing" the investigation would be a bad idea and conduct of the investigation was left up to Miles.

Two executives with VECO, the state's largest oil field services firm, have pleaded guilty to bribing several legislators last year when the state's Petroleum Profits Tax was being adopted.

State Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage, urged a thorough investigation, but asked if some of it could be done before the special session. That might include the narrow issue of who received access to information from more than 100 political polls a VECO executive testified the company paid for in recent years.

"I think that it will be helpful going into the special session to know who has been a recipient of VECO's largess," Crawford said.

In the corruption scandal unfolding since FBI agents raided legislative and VECO offices last year, former Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, was convicted on federal bribery and other charges last month.

Over the summer, former Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Anchorage, accused of taking VECO money, was convicted on unrelated charges.

Two more former legislators have been indicted and are awaiting trial. They include former Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, and former Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, a past chairman of the House Special Committee on Oil and Gas.

In addition, other current and former legislators were implicated in court testimony as well. Sen. John Cowdery, R-Anchorage, said he'll skip the session because of the allegations.

Former state Rep. Ray Metcalfe, who in the past has criticized the commission for lax enforcement of ethics and campaign finance rules, praised its recent aggressiveness.

"I want to thank the commission for turning over a new leaf," he told them Monday.

He, too, urged them to make as much information public prior to Oct. 18.

"We have a special session coming up and we have billions of dollars on the table," he said.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, presented the commission with data compiled from campaign finance reports showing $866,000 from six top VECO executives to candidates, and $166,000 to the Republican Party over the last 10 years.

He said the commission also should look into whether VECO reimbursed these contributions, as federal indictments allege was done in some cases. Gara also wanted to know whether or not numerous other campaign contributors listing occupations such as "housewife" also got reimbursed for their contributions by VECO.

"I think it is all too complex to be done before the special session," he acknowledged.

Miles said there is some debate about the commission's ability to seek penalties for violations due to a one-year statute of limitations, but it could make its findings public.

Commission Chairman Roger Holl, a nonpartisan member, said the FBI investigation into Alaska politics had given the commission "new energy."

• Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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