Alaska Public Offices Commission says it will not back down from poll probe

Posted: Friday, October 26, 2007

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Public Offices Commission is rejecting a request to stay out of a corruption probe involving VECO Corp. and state politicians.

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APOC said it will continue to investigate polls that VECO bought for politicians, even though it is having some trouble getting polling firms to cooperate in its investigation.

"We certainly have not gotten all the polling information that we should have," said Jeff Berliner, investigator for the public offices commission, however, APOC commissioners have decided that the state campaign watchdog agency should push on at least until it hears from the Justice Department.

Former VECO executive Rick Smith acknowledged in the recent corruption trial of former state Rep. Pete Kott that the company paid for "upwards of 100 polls" over the years. It's not clear how many of those represent illegal corporate campaign contributions.

Smith, who has pleaded guilty to bribing state legislators and is cooperating with the FBI, has refused to provide information to APOC.

The federal Justice Department wrote state Attorney General Talis Colberg this month saying a state investigation into the political polls could compromise aspects of the broad, ongoing federal investigation of corruption in Alaska politics. Gov. Sarah Palin said state prosecutors would back off as a result.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission is a semi-independent agency. The governor considers it inappropriate to say what it can investigate. State lawyers suggested APOC should contact the Justice Department, according to Brooke Miles, public offices commission executive director.

Miles said APOC staff attempted without success to reach William Welch, chief of the public integrity section at the department.

"I have personally left two messages on Mr. Welch's voice mail," Miles said at a Wednesday APOC meeting.

Miles said she would keep trying to get in touch.

"We go ahead until they tell us no," said Claire Hall, an APOC commissioner from Fairbanks.

A Justice Department spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the matter Wednesday.

APOC can impose civil fines and refer matters to the attorney general's office for possible criminal prosecution. The agency has been criticized for not doing enough about the corruption in Alaska politics.

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