Firms pay lawmakers for consulting and legal services

Posted: Sunday, July 06, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Three key lawmakers reported receiving tens of thousands of dollars in consulting or legal fees from companies that do business with the Legislature.

Disclosure forms filed by the lawmakers show Veco Corp., which is heavily involved in state politics, has two prominent state senators on its payroll last year.

Veco paid Senate Majority Leader Ben Stevens $47,500 for consulting work last year. Stevens is the son of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and a Republican from Anchorage.

State Sen. Robin Taylor, an Republican from Wrangell and an attorney, also reported receiving $16,800 last year from Veco for legal services, The Anchorage Daily News reported.

In addition, state Sen. Scott Ogan, a Republican from Palmer, reported receiving $40,000 from Evergreen Resources for consulting, public relations and project management work.

The Denver-based company, which works on coal-bed drilling in the Matanuska Susitna region, paid Ogan $17,000 in 2001.

Ogan is a cabinetmaker by trade, but has focused on resource issues during his nine years in the legislature and now chairs the Senate Resources Committee.

The three lawmakers all reported the payments as required and broke no laws. Still, such relationships raise ''questions about the legitimacy of a lot of the legislation that comes through,'' said Matt Davidson, a lobbyist with the Alaska Conservation Voters.

Clive Thomas, a political science professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, said the purpose of the state disclosure reports is to let the public know about such arrangements.

Alaska has a part-time Legislature and potential conflicts with their full-time vocations are common, lawmakers say.

When voting, lawmakers are expected to state their conflicts of interest. They routinely ask to be excused from voting on matters, but just as routinely other lawmakers object and require them to vote.

Lawmakers also should not chair committee hearings when a conflict of interest is involved, said Dennis ''Skip'' Cook, a Fairbanks attorney who chairs the legislative ethics panel.

Ogan stepped down as chairman during a committee hearing last session in which an Evergreen bill was taken up. But he did join in the committee discussion, said Davidson. The bill, which restricted local land-use regulations on some coal bed methane projects, passed the Legislature.

There are bound to be conflicts that should be disclosed in a citizen Legislature, Ogan said. But it is good to have private sector expertese in the Legislature, he said.

''The other option is to have professional politicians who cannot work outside their legislative duties,'' Ogan said.

Jack Ekstrom, public relations manager for Evergreen, said Ogan was hired because the company wanted a longtime resident of the Mat-Su who knew government and politics.

Stevens has worked for Veco since before joining the Legislature in 2001. Stevens started a consulting and lobbying company active in Washington D.C. nearly a decade ago.

His clients include fishing-related companies and Cook Inlet Region Inc., an Anchorage-based Native corporation.

Veco employed Stevens to gain access to organizations such as the World Bank, which sponsors construction projects, said company president Pete Leathard. Stevens' firm is influential and knows how to cut through the federal bureaucracy, Leathard said.

Leathard said he does not think such work poses a conflict of interest. ''We don't let it be a conflict and ben is not that type of person,'' Leathard said.

Veco pays Taylor to handle legal issues for the company in Southeast Alaska, said Leathard. The company also hired Taylor in 2001. ''He's a pretty good lawyer,'' Leathard said.

Neither Taylor nor Stevens could be reached for comment.

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