By SABRA AYRES
Anchorage Daily News
February 27, 2007
But such a scenario was before the FBI raided six legislators' offices last year. It was before a House member was indicted on charges of bribery, conspiracy and extortion, and before talk in the Capitol turned to ethics reform and clean government.
This year, lawmakers said, Veco executives haven't been around either the halls of the Capitol or the hotel bars frequented by the lawmakers who rent rooms upstairs during the session.
When the FBI searched legislative offices last August, search warrants show they were targeting material linked to interactions with Veco chairman Bill Allen, among other documents.
None of the lawmakers' whose offices were searched or any Veco executives have been charged. In December, then-Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Anchorage, was indicted on charges of bribery, extortion and money laundering. But the two actions have not been linked by the FBI's continued investigation into government corruption in Alaska.
One lobbyist is registered to work for Veco this year, compared with three last year, according to the state's Public Offices Commission.
In the past, Veco stood apart from other interest groups by heavily using its top executives to lobby in Juneau, in addition to its contracted lobbyists. Veco is an Anchorage-based oil-field service company and one of the largest businesses in Alaska. It has championed oil company interests in Juneau for more than two decades.
In 2002, the state insisted that Allen himself register as a professional lobbyist because he was making so many visits to the capital on behalf of his company.
A request for an interview with Veco executives Monday was turned down. A woman answering the phone at Veco's headquarters said the company's legal counsel had advised executives to refrain from media comments until after the FBI investigation's conclusion.
Lawmakers say the raids and swirling rumors of more indictments have created a magnifying glass when it comes to legislative conduct this year.
Lobbyists from oil companies still visit lawmakers, but some legislators say a hyper-awareness to what could be perceived as unethical behavior has changed the way the government operates with special-interest groups.
Since the legislative session began last month, some lawmakers say they have thought twice about attending the abundance of lavish receptions hosted each year by special-interest groups from pharmaceutical companies to municipalities and nursing groups.
"There is certainly more scrutiny of behavior that could potentially reflect badly on the institution," said Senate Minority Leader Gene Therriault, R-North Pole.
This year, some senior legislative staffers have said they are choosing not to visit popular Juneau bars, where in previous years lobbyists have socialized with lawmakers and staffers.
"It's a given that our bosses are public figures and therefore subject to public scrutiny," said Heath Hilyard, the chief of staff for Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer. "This year some of us are questioning where we go out in public because of how it might reflect on our bosses."
An early session primer on how Alaska fared compared with other states' ethical guidelines raised questions about what should be and shouldn't be acceptable behavior, said Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage.
"I've opted not to attend receptions this year because you don't know where the new ethics legislation is going," Hawker said. "The water is so murky now, I don't want to have to justify why I would go to one or oppose going to one. It's just better to avoid all questions and potential problems by not going until the reforms are worked out."
Interactions with lobbyists, receptions and special interest groups may change in the coming weeks, however. Gov. Sarah Palin is expected to introduce her revised state budget proposal as well as her gas pipeline legislation later this week. Lawmakers said the debate over the pipeline bill is likely to attract more lobbyists from special interest groups to Capitol halls as the debate heats up.
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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