A jury of ordinary citizens rendered its verdict: No one, not even Ted Stevens, the Alaskan of the Century, is above the law. If a powerful politician is going to collect a steady stream of gifts and home improvements from a powerful lobbyist, he must report them as the law requires.
The public had a right to know about the intimate financial relationship Stevens had with the state's most notorious power broker. Stevens let Bill Allen rebuild his house and stock it with furnishings - and then hid the cozy arrangement from public sight.
It's a shame to see Stevens' once-great career end in scandal. No single person has done more to transform life in Alaska than Stevens, the longest-serving Republican U.S. senator in history.
A full list of his accomplishments is too long to recount here. He ensured that Alaska still hosts a robust military presence, despite constant downsizing pressure. Thousands of federal workers here collect a tax-free cost-of-living boost on their paychecks. Scores of rural communities have health clinics, water and sewer projects, airports or docks, thanks to Stevens.
Stevens was there in the Senate when the federal government passed the landmark Native land claims settlement in 1971. He helped push Congress to break a legal logjam holding up the Alaska oil pipeline. He fought to reduce the size of federal parks, refuges and wilderness areas that Congress set aside in 1980 and to create more flexible rules for Alaskans using those areas.
The law that governs the nation's offshore fisheries bears Stevens' name. Stevens passed special tax breaks and bidding preferences for Alaska Native corporations, some of which have turned into economic powerhouses. Alaska's larger communities enjoy roads, ports, airports and other public facilities built in large part with federal money that Stevens steered our way.
Somewhere along the line, the former federal prosecutor lost his ethical compass. Stevens has been in power so long, he developed a sense of entitlement.
In court, the "Lion of the Senate" blamed others for his woes. He blamed his wife, because she was supposed to pay the bills. He blamed Allen, because he kept giving him things and building improvements to the Girdwood home. He blamed prosecutors for being unfair to him.
Stevens resorted to legal hairsplitting, saying that the "unwanted" gifts were really just "loans," which, conveniently, did not have to be disclosed on his Senate forms.
Stevens never took an ounce of responsibility for any of the behavior that got him indicted and convicted. He rejects the jury's verdict, saying he's a victim of prosecutorial abuse. He will, of course, appeal.
Even if the jury hadn't convicted him, even if his appeal succeeds, Stevens demonstrated to Alaskans that he was guilty of astonishingly bad judgment.
Allen was a well-known bad actor in Alaska politics long before Stevens collected his first unreported gift from him.
Allen's company, VECO, paid a record-breaking $28,000 fine for illegally funneling money to favored state Senate candidates in 1984. VECO paid another big fine for illegally helping a candidate for governor in 1990.
Even so, VECO, Allen and his top executives continued to be Alaska's single largest source of campaign cash. Between 1989 and 2006, Stevens had no qualms about taking $156,000 of campaign funds from the VECO pipeline controlled by Allen. We now know, thanks to Allen's conviction on bribery charges, that when VECO executives made "personal" campaign donations, they used laundered money from Allen and VECO.
Allen gave the senator's son lucrative "consulting" contracts, but Stevens never suspected anything was amiss. Allen has since admitted those do-nothing contracts were bribes to Ben Stevens, who as state Senate president did Allen's bidding in a controversial fight against a state oil tax increase.
Allen asked for and got Stevens' help in getting federal contracts. Stevens was scratching Allen's back while Allen was scratching his.
Stevens didn't recognize Allen as bad news until Allen pleaded guilty to his crimes and testified against him in court. Only then did Stevens recognize the flaws in his buddy, the fellow who joined him on yearly retreats, the man who had the keys to his Alaska house.
It's no coincidence that Stevens and Allen were partners in owning a race horse. Horse racing is the sport of kings, and Stevens expected to enjoy the kind of power and privilege usually associated with kings.
Stevens may be Alaskan of the Century, but he is not our king. His lifetime of good works for Alaska does not entitle him to ignore the law. If Alaskans have any pride, any integrity, any standards of conduct for their public servants, voters will not reward his arrogance on Election Day.
Bottom Line: The man who has done so much good for Alaska did himself in with his bad judgment.
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