Ethical lapse clear

Letter to the editor

Posted: Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Lew Williams' attempt (Empire, Dec. 12) to portray Attorney General Renkes as an innocent victim of "Wall Street shenanigans" is interesting, but beside the point. The fact is, Mr. Renkes wouldn't be in hot water if he had, as he claimed in his Oct. 4 statement: " ... made it clear that ... I could not direct, approve, or take any official action that might benefit KFx." Unfortunately, for the attorney general, public documents demonstrate that he was actively involved in the promotion of the Beluga coal project to Taiwan, and that KFx's coal drying technology was an integral part of his marketing job.

Mr. Williams' attempt to analogize to the prior administration's negotiations with Cisco Systems also misses the mark. What is different about Renkes KFx holdings with relation to the Beluga coal negotiations are two things: 1.) KFx made up the vast majority of Mr. Renkes' investment portfolio. When this story broke, his KFx shares were worth $122,000 and were his largest single investment. 2) The Beluga coal project represented a possible make-or-break opportunity for FKx. Cisco is an enormous company for whom a contract with the state of Alaska would register as hardly a blip in its earnings or stock price. KFx, on the other hand, is a small company whose only asset is a coal drying technology which has never been commercially applied. Mr. Renkes' discussions with the Taiwanese government, if successful, stood to present KFx with a golden opportunity to demonstrate its commercial viability. And in so doing, they also stood to benefit handsomely anyone who owned KFx stock.

We can wait for Robert Bundy's investigation to find out if any laws were broken. However, when it comes to ethical lapses, what else do we need to know? The public record indicates, at minimum, a colossal lapse of judgment, the strong appearance of impropriety and misleading public statements by Mr. Renkes about the true extent of his involvement. This is not the standard of behavior most of us expect from our state's chief law enforcement officer. The only thing that remains to be seen here is if the Murkowski administration's commitment to high ethical standards is genuine, or if hot air has become the new political coin of the realm.

David Ottoson


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