State levies $150 fine against Ben Stevens for not revealing chairmanship

Posted: Friday, December 02, 2005

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Alaska Public Offices Commission on Thursday fined state Senate President Ben Stevens $150 for failing to disclose his chairmanship of the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board.

The commission also directed its staff to look into requiring public officials to list any stock options they hold, a move prompted by an ownership option Stevens held in a fish processing company in the Aleutian Islands.

Stevens, R-Anchorage, did not disclose his option to own 25 percent of Adak Fisheries, which was only made public this year after the owners of the company sued each other.

Meanwhile, the commission also rejected an appeal by Republican Moderate Party Chairman Ray Metcalfe to investigate his allegation that Stevens did not fully disclose what he did for various companies that paid him consulting fees.

Metcalfe alleges the companies, mainly from the fishing and oil industries, paid Stevens for his political influence as leader of the state Senate.

Stevens denies the allegations of influence peddling.

The commission, which tracks the financial activities of election campaigns, public officials, lobbyists and lobbyist employers, spent the bulk of the morning session of its Thursday meeting in Anchorage on the three issues dealing with the Senate president.

Stevens did not disclose that he is chairman of the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board in his 2005 financial disclosure statement to APOC, which is a violation of state law.

He told the commission he filed that information with the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics, and did not believe he had to file with APOC, too.

The maximum fine the commission could have levied against Stevens was $2,120, or $10 per day for all 212 days Stevens' report was out of compliance.

APOC's staff recommended reducing it to $150 because Stevens did not understand he had to report the chairmanship and because he later amended his disclosure statement to include the position.

The commission unanimously approved the staff's recommendation for the $150 fine.

The day before, the commission fined Stevens' House counterpart, Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, $693 for misspending nearly $7,000 in campaign money.

APOC also will consult with the Department of Law on whether it can change its disclosure requirements to require lawmakers and other public officials to reveal all stock options they own, regardless of their value.

That decision, too, was prompted by Stevens. He held an option to buy 25 percent of Adak Fisheries, which was the beneficiary of a congressionally approved pollock allocation pushed in 2003 by Stevens' father, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

Officials with the Aleut Corp., which was awarded the rights to the pollock, say Ben Stevens kept his option secret when he voted as a board member of the corporation's subsidiary to transfer the allocation rights to Adak Fisheries. Aleut officials say that is a conflict of interest, which Stevens has denied.

Whether Stevens' option is valid is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit.

"They have a right to know (that legislators) are not going to be voting to benefit the business," Commissioner John Dapcevich said.

APOC Assistant Director Christina Ellingson said if the Department of Law concludes new disclosure requirement can't be made under APOC's current regulations, it will draft new regulations or ask the Legislature to change the law.

Also, the commission unanimously rejected Metcalfe's appeal of an APOC staff decision not to investigate his allegations against Stevens' disclosure of his consulting work.

Metcalfe requested Stevens' work should be held to the standard of an IRS compliance audit, where Stevens would have to provide evidence of billing hours and the work product received. If that evidence doesn't justify the money Stevens received, Metcalfe asked APOC to forward his complaint to the attorney general's office to determine whether Stevens violated criminal law regarding bribery for a political purpose.

Ellingson said that is out of APOC's jurisdiction, and that Stevens met the requirements for financial disclosure that the commission reviews.

Metcalfe dismissed the jurisdictional explanation and said the commission would be complicit in a cover up of Stevens' activities if it did not try to shed more light on what he did to earn his money.

Metcalfe has filed a second complaint with APOC against Stevens, which was not addressed Thursday.



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