Ethics panel says Mulder used ''poor judgment'' in pushing bill

Posted: Sunday, September 23, 2001

JUNEAU -- State Rep. Eldon Mulder used ''poor judgment'' in pushing a bill to benefit the cruise ship industry at a time when his wife was employed by its lobbyist, but he did not violate ethics codes, a state panel concluded.

After a four-month investigation, the subcommittee of the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics cleared Mulder of allegations he used his elected office for personal benefit.

The panel recommended that Mulder, a five-term Republican from Anchorage, and his staff attend ethics training in January ''in an effort to avoid actions that may result in the filing of additional ethics complaints.''

Mulder called the charges against him ''frivolous'' and said he saw no conflict of interest.

Mulder was accused of shepherding a bill through the Legislature last session to exempt the cruise industry from state regulations.

The bill came as lawmakers were considering tougher regulations on cruise ships and at a time when his wife worked for the cruise industry's chief lobbyist.

Wendy Mulder worked as office manager for Joe Hayes, who held a contract with the North West CruiseShip Association. She earned $85,000, according to a financial disclosure statement filed with the state.

Eldon Mulder introduced the bill in April. It was referred to just one committee -- the House Finance Committee, of which Mulder is co-chair -- and passed to the floor.

''Representative Mulder could have avoided this appearance of impropriety by declining to personally facilitate the cruise ship bill,'' wrote H. Conner Thomas, chairman of the ethics subcommittee.

Mulder co-sponsored the bill after consulting with House Speaker Brian Porter, R-Anchorage, and other House leaders as a way to produce a compromise on the issue, he told the Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday.

''The governor was demanding a cruise ship bill and the members in my caucus were not interested,'' Mulder said. ''My interest was to try and avoid a train wreck.''

Porter could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.

Government activist Stephen Conn, who filed the complaint against Mulder in May, questioned how effective the panel is at policing lawmakers in light of the decision.

''You are left wondering if there is anything short of giving a bag of money to a lawmaker that would constitute a violation of the ethics code in the eyes of the committee,'' said Conn, executive director of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group.

Mulder was cleared of similar allegations in 1995 after pushing for two measures that would have benefited his wife's clients.

Wendy Mulder was hired by Eagle Insurance Group Inc., of Seattle, to lobby for a workers compensation bill. She was hired by Tower Properties Inc., to lobby for a $2.2 million extension of a state property lease.

In that ruling, the panel found no evidence of ethical wrongdoing, but cited him for allowing his wife to use office facilities for lobbying activities. Wendy Mulder also served as a volunteer in Mulder's office.

Mulder was advised to establish a written policy to restrict nongovernment use of his office facilities. Volunteers in his office were advised to take ethics training.

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