Ethics committee finds evidence that Harris broke law

Group concludes lawmaker conducted GOP business from his legislative office

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A legislative ethics committee has determined there was "probable cause" that House Speaker John Harris broke state ethics law when his office issued a news release calling on Ben Stevens to resign from the Republican National Committee.

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The Select Committee on Legislative Ethics made the ruling.

The committee dismissed a complaint against convicted former state House Speaker Pete Kott.

In the Harris matter, the committee concluded that Harris was doing Republican Party business out of his legislative office.

"Representative Harris used state resources (staff, equipment and legislative letterhead), to prepare and issue a press release focused solely on partisan political activity," said the report, released Wednesday.

Stevens, the former president of the state Senate, is under federal investigation. He has denied breaking the law.

Gov. Sarah Palin has also called on Stevens to resign.

After Harris issued his press release, someone filed a confidential ethics complaint against the Valdez Republican. Harris then put in policies for his legislative office to make sure it did not happen again, the report said. Considering that, the committee said no punishment was needed.

Harris was in Mexico on vacation Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

Harris issued the news release on Sept. 19. It was titled, "Speaker Calls on Ben Stevens to Resign National Committeeman Position."

Stevens, son of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, holds the position of national committeeman for the Alaska Republican Party.

That gives him a seat on the Republican National Committee. The Republican National Committee is composed of one man and one woman from each of the 50 states. The committee decides the party position and puts together the party platform, among other things.

Two executives of the oil field services company VECO Inc. have testified that they bribed Stevens. Stevens has not been charged.

Harris' news release said Stevens had lost the confidence of Alaskans and the support of the state's top elected leadership. It said Stevens had not attended to the duties of the Republican National Committee for more than two years. His term ends in March.

The ethics committee also dismissed a complaint filed in May against Kott. He was sentenced this month to six years in prison on federal corruption charges.

The committee decided not to investigate the most serious allegation in the complaint.

The ethics report described the allegation only as "that former representative Kott used his status as a legislator to obtain personal gain for Debora J. Stovern in a court hearing."

Stovern is Kott's girlfriend. She told the Anchorage Daily News that Kott was accused of helping her in a child support case.

"The allegation was that he somehow influenced the judge to set a child support amount, which of course is ridiculous," she said.

Ethics committee administrator Joyce Anderson said the reasons the panel decided not to investigate are confidential.

The committee dismissed an allegation Kott failed to disclose that Stovern was his "domestic partner" when he was a legislator and she worked for the legislative affairs agency.

It also threw out a claim Kott improperly used state resources by faxing eight documents in 2003.

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