An interview with a former Alaska lawmaker on the Veco scandalBy Anupama Narayanswamy May 14 2007 10:21 p.m.
On May 4, federal prosecutors charged Rep. Vic Kohring, an
for conspiracy to commit extortion and bribery. Three days later,
two top officials from the oil services firm Veco Corp., CEO Bill Allen and Rick Smith,
vice president for community and government affairs, pled guilty to
bribing four Alaska lawmakersKohring, Weyhrauch and Kott and former state Sen. Ben Stevens, the son of U.S. Sen Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.
Kohring, Weyhrauch and Kott have all pled not guilty, and Kohring has returned to his duties in the
I talked to Andrew Halcro, a former Republican lawmaker who's been very critical of his party and the influence that Vecowhich is a top political donor in the state as well as a formidable lobbying presencewields over it. Halcro served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1999 to 2003, and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006, losing in a primary to Sarah Palin, who also went on to win the general election.
As a state lawmaker, Halcro was in position to observe the work of Veco executives in the state capitol. I interviewed him to get his take on the recent events; Halcro revealed that Veco's Bill Allen and Rick Smith had unfettered access to everyone in the state's legislature and were commonly seen in the hallways around the building.
Halcro shared some of his personal experiences:
I was elected in November 1998 to the state house and ran as a Republican. At the time, Veco was a big contractor and even to this day they are the backbone of the people." They had built themselves up into this special interest group and they helped first time campaigners and got them to lean on their funding.
My real experience with them was two days after getting elected Veco had had a fundraising luncheon for me and raised about $3,000 which was 10 percent of [my] total contributions. We were to choose the party leadership that day and I get a call from Bill Allen who says, Pete Kott should be chosen as the Speaker." I said that this was inappropriate and he bluntly told me that he had given me money when I was campaigning.
Halcro believes that he was not the only one Veco contacted during the period and that company officials also approached other first-term legislators.
Veco has also made campaign contributions to federal as well as state elected officials, including the three members of Alaska's congressional delegation, Sen. Ted Stevens, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, plus members from other states, including Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. (The full story and list from the Center for Responsive Politics is here.)
Halcro noted that most of the legislators that took large contributions from Veco also support oil-drilling projects in
Halcro also recalled how the entire scandal got started. He said:
These guys wanted a $700 million tax credit on an oil tax and they didn't want it to be more than 20 percent but it was finally set at 22.5 percent with a possibility of an increase. In my last year [in the state house] 2002, Bill Allen and Rick Smith, who were not registered as lobbyists, lobbied for the tax bill and were fined. So, they came back the next year and changed the law in 2003. They were so brazen about it. They would even pass notes over the balcony.
Halcro added that
The main problem is that the internal public watchdog process in the state is under funded and for 10 years, the Republicans have been in power there has been no tightening of campaign finance regulations.
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