Another Powerful Alaska Republican in Ethics Heat

Alaska's at-large Congressman, Republican Don Young, isn't the only one catching flak for possible ethics violations. Check out the front page of today's Washington Post, where Paul Kane writes about the equally powerful Ted Stevens, Alaska's curmudgeonly Republican Senator, and his troubles with the law.

Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, disclosed in an interview that the FBI asked him to preserve records as part of a widening investigation into Alaskan political corruption that has touched his son and ensnared one of his closest political confidants and financial backers.

Stevens, who is famous for bringing home federal earmarks for Alaska when he was Appropriations Committee chairman, was not previously known to be linked to the Justice Department's probe, which has uncovered evidence that more than $400,000 worth of bribes were given to state lawmakers in exchange for favorable energy legislation.

Investigators have used secret recording equipment, seized documents and cooperating witnesses to secure the indictments of four current and former state lawmakers, including the former state House speaker, shaking the core of Alaska's Republican Party.

Two executives of a prominent energy company have pleaded guilty to bribery and extortion charges and are cooperating with the inquiry, which is being run by the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section and includes two federal prosecutors and FBI agents based in Anchorage.

"They put me on notice to preserve some records," Stevens said in a brief interview about his legal team's discussions with the FBI. He declined to say what kinds of records were involved but confirmed that he had hired lawyers and that his son, former state Senate president Ben Stevens, "is also under investigation."

Alaska is a stalwartly Republican state. Only once in its history has it given its electoral votes to a Democrat -- and that only happened in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater by close to 23 points nationally. While Alaska did twice elect a Democrat, Tony Knowles, as its Governor in recent year, Knowles won his first election with just 41 percent of the vote and secured reelection only when there were two Republicans in the race, splitting the party's vote. And on the federal level, no Democrat has won a Senate contest in the state since 1974, when Mike Gravel was reelected amid a Democratic landslide, and no Democrat has won a Congressional race in the state since 1972, when Nick Begich won, only to die in a plane crash before his first term has been completed.

That said, the culmination of Republican corruption scandals could make it difficult for GOP candidates in 2008 -- particularly Stevens and Young, who are both up for reelection next fall. And according to a piece Kane wrote today for The Post's website, the Democrats think they may have found the right candidate to take on one of these two potentially endangered incumbents: the late Nick Begich's son Mark.

With a trio of stories today involving ethical allegations against Alaska Republicans, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich's phone started ringing early with calls from Capitol Hill.

Begich, a popular mayor who won his second three-year term a year ago, is being courted to challenge one or the other of Alaska's longtime Republican incumbents, who have more than 73 years of combined congressional experience. He's the son of the late Rep. Nick Begich (D-Alaska), who died in a 1972 plane crash with the late Rep. Hale Boggs (D-La.), in a remote part of the Frontier State. Begich, now 44, was 10 at the time.

Facing a term limit in the spring of 2009, Begich is in a minor bidding war between the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- which wants him to challenge Rep. Don Young (R), who took his father's seat after the crash -- and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee -- seeking a challenger to Sen. Ted Stevens (R), 83, the longest-serving Republican in Senate history.

Alaska might not be as much of a swing state as New Mexico, where the GOP is also roiling as incumbent members of the House and the Senate face additional scrutiny, or even as much as Kentucky, where the taint of Governor Ernie Fletcher continues to dog his party. But realistically that might not stop the Democrats from being able to capitalize on this unique situation.

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Another Corruption Problem for the House GOP

Even as House Democrats work to wipe the yolk off of their faces following the indictment of Democratic Congressman William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson, it appears that the list of House Republicans under suspicion of unethical behavior seems to be continuing to grow. Check out this latest news from The New York TimesDavid D. Kirkpatrick:

It is no secret that campaign contributions sometimes lead to lucrative official favors. Rarely, though, are the tradeoffs quite as obvious as in the twisted case of Coconut Road.

The road, a stretch of pavement near Fort Myers, Fla., that touches five golf clubs on its way to the Gulf of Mexico, is the target of a $10 million earmark that appeared mysteriously in a 2006 transportation bill written by Representative Don Young, Republican of Alaska.

Mr. Young, who last year steered more than $200 million to a so-called bridge to nowhere reaching 80 people on Gravina Island, Alaska, has no constituents in Florida.

The Republican congressman whose district does include Coconut Road says he did not seek the money. County authorities have twice voted not to use it, until Mr. Young and the district congressman wrote letters warning that a refusal could jeopardize future federal money for the county.

The Coconut Road money is a boon, however, to Daniel J. Aronoff, a real estate developer who helped raise $40,000 for Mr. Young at the nearby Hyatt Coconut Point hotel days before he introduced the measure.

Mr. Aronoff owns as much as 4,000 acres along Coconut Road. The $10 million in federal money would pay for the first steps to connect the road to Interstate 75, multiplying the value of Mr. Aronoff's land.

Now some might argue that this is par for the course in Congress, a dog-bites-man story rather than a man-bites-dog. Not so says a Republican county commissioner -- a Republican -- in the area.

Mr. Young's role, first reported by The Naples Daily News, has escalated objections to the project. Environmentalists say the interchange would threaten wetlands. And a Republican commissioner of Lee County, Ray Judah, is campaigning against the interchange, calling it an example of Congressional corruption that is "a cancer on the federal government."

"It would appear that Don Young was doing a favor for a major contributor," Mr. Judah said.

There is a sentiment among many in Congress -- probably too many -- that a continuation of the status quo is just fine, that the American public will be alright with a neutered ethics process that lets all but the most egregious offenders on Capitol Hill go without rebuke. Along this vein, Susan Crabtree reports Thursday in The Hill, "Several House members on both sides of the aisle are worried that their leaders' increased use of the House floor as an ethics battleground will backfire as more lawmakers are expected to be indicted this Congress."

But rather than worry about the House descending into a partisan battleground over ethics violations, perhaps Congressmen and Congresswomen should worry about the exact opposite -- that as a result of their reluctance to weed out corruption, whether real or perceived, will lead to a continued decline in the public's faith in Congress as an institution.

And, frankly, this so-called "ethics truce" has the potential to hurt Democrats even more than it hurts Republicans. Even taking into account the fact that more Republicans than Democrats are reported to be currently under federal investigation, the Democrats are now in control of the House and a failure to act decisively on this matter is more likely to hurt the party in power than the party out of power. What's more, this is an issue key to the coalition of voters that put the Democrats in the majority in 2006. Exit-polling from the last election indicates that more voters (41 percent) listed corruption and ethics as extremely important to them than any other issue -- and these voters backed the Democrats by a 59 percent to 39 percent margin.

So even though it is the case that the ethics taint continues to plague House Republicans (as evidenced by The Times article) -- in fact more so than House Democrats -- it is nonetheless in the Democrats' interest to buck up and start living up to their pledge to run the most ethical Congress in American history.

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An Idea: How about Gravel for AK-Sen in 2008?

I was pleased to see former US Senator and current Presidential candidate Mike Gravel dish out some raw straight talk at the debate tonight.

The idea then occurred to me that perhaps he should run for US Senate from Alaska, once the primary season for the Presidential race is nearly over (and as expectd, barring a major miracle, Gravel is not headed towards the nomination), as we could certainly use his unfiltered talk in the US Senate.

Crossposted from DKos.

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Senate 2008: Dems Should At Least Look at Alaska

With Republicans forces to defend 21 Senate seats in 2008, Democrats are going to have an abundance of potential races to look at -- so much so that they are going to have to make hard decisions about what races actually make sense to make serious investments of time and resources in. Preference, of course, should be given to the more Democratic-leaning states, those in which the Republican incumbent is not popular and those where a retirement makes it easier to pick off a seat, but that is not to say that the Democrats should overlook states that don't meet those criteria. As is the case almost every year, one race will likely come out of nowhere in the later stages of the 2008 cycle -- just as Virginia did this year and Kentucky two years earlier -- and the Democrats best be prepared to make the most of the situation by finding credible candidates in all 21 states the Republicans will be defending in two years.

This brings us to Alaska, where outgoing Senate president pro tempore Ted Stevens, who has served in the Senate for just shy of 38 years, will face reelection in 2008. On the surface, there is little reason to look at Stevens. The senior Senator has a fairly strong approval rating of 62 percent that has been fostered over his years in Washington by helping bring home the bacon, which he could likely continue to do even in the minority should his Republican Party fail to retake the Senate in 2008. This fact will not likely be lost on Alaskans, who are no doubt mindful that their junior Senator, Lisa Murkowski, has served only since 2002 and thus has significantly less clout to secure earmarks for local projects. Beyond all of this, Alaska is, and has been for many years, a Republican state; it has not delivered its electoral votes to a Democrat since 1964 and has not elected a Democrat to the House or Senate since the 1970s.

So in the absence of a scandal or a remarkable flub on Stevens' part, it's going to be difficult for the Democrats to win in Alaska in 2008. Yet we may be seeing the beginnings of the type of scandal that could provide an opening for the Democrats to at least put yet another Republican seat in play in two years. Richard Mauer has the story for the Anchorage Daily News.

The director of a Juneau-based salmon fishing group said last week he has been ordered by a federal grand jury investigating Alaska corruption to turn over lobbying and consulting records involving state Senate President Ben Stevens and former congressional aide Trevor McCabe, an Anchorage lawyer.

The grand jury subpoena, issued last month, also seeks records on the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, a nonprofit federal-grant distribution corporation set up by Ben Stevens' father, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

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Register to Vote if you Live in One of These States!

Update: I missed Florida, New Mexico, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia. Ack.

If you haven't registered to vote and you live Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, or Washington, do it today.  The deadlines for those states fall between October 7 - October 11, which is early next week.  Voter registration is no longer hard.  I did it a few days ago (change of address) through this site, which produced a nice slick PDF which I mailed in.  The whole process took me fifteen minutes.  

http://civic.moveon.org/save_the_interne t/voter_reg.html

As a bonus, since I did it through that site I'm now counted as an 'Internet Freedom Voter', or a voter who cares about net neutrality.

If you need deadlines for other states, go to this post.

You can also register to vote through this url if you want to register to vote and for some reason are against net neutrality: http://www.govote.org/?t1=120

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