Alaska democrats say Murkowski violated ethics rules with press release

Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Alaska Democratic Party says Sen. Frank Murkowski violated Senate ethics rules by listing his Senate press aides and their office number as contacts in a recent press release announcing his candicacy for governor.

Senate ethics rules and federal law prohibit the use of congressional office space or equipment for political campaign activities, said Tammy Troyer, Democratic Party director.

Murkowski said last week that Senate rules allow him to use his office and his press-release forms to make an announcement of his plans.

On Tuesday he said he wouldn't comment until he'd seen an official complaint.

The announcement, which was released last week, listed Chuck Kleeschulte and Carrie Lehman, both Murkowski press aides, as contacts and gave Kleeschulte's office number. A later press release also listed Kleeschulte's home number.

Kleeschulte cited a 1979 Senate ethics rule that says press secretaries are allowed to answer reporters' questions about a senator's activities, including those of a political nature.

But he said if he'd known his number was on the announcement, he would have asked that it be removed, ''just to avoid annoying calls like this.''

The office number that was listed rings in the Hart Senate Office Building, which has been off-limits for two weeks because of anthrax contamination. On the day of Murkowski's announcement, Kleeschulte was at home, where most reporters called him, he said.

That's not the point, said Troyer, the Democratic Party director.

''The fact that it was closed due to an anthrax scare is really irrelevant to us,'' she told the Anchorage Daily News. ''It's part of his U.S. Senate office.''

She said the party has not yet decided whether to file a formal ethics complaint.

Chuck Achberger, an Anchorage political consultant who is married to Murkowski's newly appointed campaign chairwoman, said he doesn't see anything wrong with the announcement. ''He was on Senate business. It affected the Senate,'' said Achberger, who actually distributed the announcement.

He said he did it as a favor to longtime friend Gregg Renkes, a Washington lobbyist and former Murkowski staffer who is serving as Murkowski's interim campaign manager.

''I think Gregg underestimated the size of my e-mail list,'' Achberger said.

Achberger said that while there was nothing improper about listing Kleeschulte's office number, it would have been better to list a campaign number. Trouble is, there was no campaign number to give, he said. Murkowski has said he made his announcement electronically because he only decided that weekend that he was going to run.

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