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Poll asks legislators about ties to VECO

AkPIRG releases results from survey of state lawmakers

Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Alaska Public Interest Research Group on Monday released results of a survey asking sitting legislators whether they'd been the recipient of a VECO Corp. poll or had any other contacts with the company.

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More than half of the state's legislators made some type of response, said Steve Cleary, AkPIRG executive director.

AkPIRG is a nonprofit statewide public advocacy group that is officially nonpartisan but generally takes liberal stands on issues.

A special legislative session on oil taxes is scheduled to start this week. The governor called for a review of the oil tax system in part because it was crafted by a Legislature now tainted with corruption charges resulting from an FBI probe.

"I think it's valuable for their constituents to know if they had any dealings with VECO," Cleary said.

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No lawmakers acknowledged having received polling assistance from VECO, an oil field services company.

During the trial of former Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, VECO Vice President Rick Smith testified that VECO had paid for as many as 100 polls for politicians over the years.

"It really defies common sense to me that none of the 60 current legislators received a poll by VECO if they did 100," Cleary said.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, declined to answer the AkPIRG request and a similar request from ethics watchdog Ray Metcalfe that legislators sign affidavits saying whether they'd received VECO help.

Kerttula called the two surveys "a form of McCarthyism" in which legislators were considered to be guilty just because they were serving in public office.

She declined to answer the surveys, but told the Empire she had not received any VECO help. Rep. Andrea, Doll, D-Juneau, and Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, also denied receiving VECO assistance.

VECO provided most of its campaign help to Republicans, and Juneau's delegation is comprised entirely of Democrats.

Cleary said that because his group is private and not affiliated with the government, the McCarthyism comparison is not valid.

Metcalfe began his survey after asking the Alaska Public Offices Commission, a watchdog agency, to do a survey, and the commission failed to act.

And as public officials, there is an obligation to tell the public about VECO contact after VECO officials admitted trying to influence legislators, Cleary said.

APOC has an ongoing investigation on the general issue, said Brooke Miles, the commission's executive director.

"At this point we're still investigating, and that process is a confidential one," she said.

A thorough and fair investigation, she said, would likely have to look at more than just sitting legislators, she said. Former legislators, unsuccessful candidates and executive branch candidates may have been poll recipients, she said.

Two legislators, House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, and state Rep. Bob Lynn, told AkPIRG that they'd visited the notorious Room 604, but only for issue discussions and had never received any improper help.

FBI agents had that room under surveillance last year and recorded VECO executives bribing legislator Kott, and allegedly others, during oil tax negotiations last year.

House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, and state Rep. Bob Lynn, both said they'd never received a VECO poll, however.

"Obviously it would have been absurd for someone to conduct a poll during my 2006 campaign as I was unopposed in both the primary and general elections," Lynn said.

Harris said he met with VECO representatives in the room during 1998-99 to discuss a possible Fort Greely prison.

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



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