Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Anchorage Daily News

Proximity is all important in the world. Yesterday I called Rich Mauer at the ADN to see if he'd be on a panel on legislative ethics January 20 that I'm helping with for Alaska Common Ground and the Alaska Women League of Voters. He won't be in town - he's headed to Iraq for six weeks! But later in the day I got a call from a reporter doing a piece on Gov. Murkowski's trip to Asia a month before leaving office. Was it ok for him to do this? Well, I can't answer a question like that, but I could discuss some factors to consider. If he had some projects to finish up that would benefit the state, then it could be a reasonable trip to make before leaving office. On the other hand, if he (and his entourage) are using the trip to set up business for after they leave office, then it would be a different story. Since I didn't have any details, I certainly couldn't make a judgment. If I were the reporter, I'd want to know what they accomplished. Did they get any contracts signed? Did they arrange any future programs between Alaska and Asia? He said they had stuff like, 'increased interest in Alaska trade." That's pretty vague, I replied, it is up to the Governor's office to document what they specifically accomplished. There are state ethics laws prohibiting doing business on projects you worked on while in office. Probably a year, don't know the details.

Well, on today's front page I saw this:

Farewell Asia tour cost state $100 grand
MURKOWSKI: Former governor says trip pushed trade and tourism.
Anchorage Daily News

Published: January 3, 2007
Last Modified: January 3, 2007 at 10:42 AM

Former Gov. Frank Murkowski's international trade mission in the waning days of his term cost the state about $114,000, according to expense records Murkowski and other state employees filed in connection with the three-nation tour.
In response to a request for information under Alaska's public-records law, the governor's office furnished a 1-inch-thick stack of receipts, travel authorization forms, itineraries and other documentation incurred by Murkowski and a dozen state employees who made at least part of the trip.
The paperwork shows a running tab of typical travel expenses: airfares, meals, lodging and ground transportation.
Gov. Sarah Palin said she was concerned about the trip's reported price tag.
For more go to: here.

Actually, not sure what you have to do to get into the story - the ADN has been making it difficult to get stories beyond the first week. This should be ok today, but I don't know about next week. So I'll give you a little from the end so you can see that Richtmyer did a reasonable job in conveying what I said.

The lack of specificity in the state's explanation raises some questions as to the value of the trip, said Steve Aufrecht, a University of Alaska Anchorage professor who has a particular interest in governmental ethics.
"It's up to (Murkowski) to tell us what he actually did," Aufrecht said. "Were any programs finalized, were any contracts finalized, or were they spending money to further private interests he's going to be pursuing after he's out of office?"
Murkowski has said he planned to set up shop as a business consultant in Fairbanks focusing on resource development and Asia.
In an interview before he left office last month, Murkowski said he hadn't lined up any clients yet. The October trip was one of many trips he made to Asia during a 26-year career as a U.S. senator and governor, so he already has plenty of contacts, Murkowski said.

So what has this got to do with proximity? Well, if I hadn't called Rich Mauer, he wouldn't have thought of me when Richard Richtmyer asked him about someone to call for his story.

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