Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Alaska: Political Corruption Has Been Mostly A Republican Passtime, But Given The Opportunity, Ethan Berkowitz Will Change All That


Alaska has been a pretty red state for a pretty long time. In 2000 no one asked for a recount; Gore won only 28% of the vote. Kerry didn't do much better even after 4 years of Bush misrule; Kerry wound up with 36%. Last time Ted Stevens ran for Senate he spent $2.3 million dollars on his race (as opposed to $1,049 that the Democrat spent) and took 78% of the vote, about the same margin he had one 6 years before. In 2006 Alaskans started pulling back from the one-party state theirs had become. Diane Benson held Alaska's one member of the House, Don Young, to a 57% win (down from 2004's 71% and 2002's 75%). Still, the data published by the Hays Research Group today is hardly what anyone was expecting.
Obama... 45%
McCain... 40%
Nader...... 2%

If you don't know about the rampant corruption that has come to define the Alaska Republican Party in the last few years, you must be new to DWT (Welcome!) Yesterday, though, Bloomberg looked at the current corruption scandal in terms of Ted Steven's chances of political survival. Stevens lost his first bid for the Senate but was appointed to the job when Democratic Senator Bob Bartlett died in 1968. The Republican Governor, Walter Hickel, made the appointment. Yesterday Hickel told Bloomberg that Stevens "has served Alaska for 40 years, but his time is over."
Stevens's indictment last month on federal charges of failing to disclose more than $250,000 he received from Veco Corp., an Anchorage-based oil-services contractor, is the latest-- and the biggest-- crest in a wave of ethical controversies that has swamped Alaska's Republican politicians.

The scandals were spawned by the confluence of one-party dominance and soaring oil and gas prices in this energy-rich state, said Gerald McBeath, a political scientist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

"This has to do with big money, big corporations trying to influence public policy,'' McBeath said. "There was a lot of money awash in Alaska. Veco was a very powerful organization in state politics. It had tentacles that reached out and touched everybody.''

To date, eight Alaskans have been convicted or pleaded guilty in connection with a four-year federal corruption probe. They include three state legislators, the chief of staff to former Governor Frank Murkowski, and two former Veco executives. The most recent guilty plea was entered yesterday.

The state's congressman, Don Young, is also under investigation, though he hasn't been charged.

Separately, Alaska's junior senator, Lisa Murkowski, was the target of an ethics complaint by a watchdog group last year over a land deal. Even Governor Sarah Palin, elected in 2006 on a clean-up-the-mess platform, is facing a legislative probe over a personnel case.

Fact of the matter is, the deep corruption in Alaska politics has been making national headlines now for over two years. The FBI and U.S. Department of Justice have indicted, convicted, plea bargained with, convicted, sentenced and imprisoned several high ranking legislators, lobbyists and oil company executives. Steven's is fighting his indictment, and his trial may be ending just days before the November elections. As Bloomberg indicates, others are arrested, indicted or plea copping almost weekly.

You might think that in Alaska, with so much attention being drawn toward these Republican crooks' ties to lobbyists, questionable campaign financing scams, and corporate influence, the people there would want the cleanest possible office holders in every seat up for grabs. Well, Alaska Republicans are so corrupt, they still will vote Ted Stevens in as their man in the August 26 statewide primary.

And on the Democratic Party primary ticket, one race has a progressive candidate who wants to "clean house," up against an old-school party hack, backed by the top executives of the Carlyle Group, the law firm that represented Exxon in the Exxon Valdez Supreme Court case, several backers of former Alaska Governor Frank Murkowki's campaigns and policies, national-level tobacco company lobbyists, crooked Chicago political hack Rahm Emanuel and his neo-con PAC, and the much discredited DCCC's "Red to Blue" program.

Diane Benson-- her campaign is profiled here by progressive Alaska Democratic Party activist Phil Munger-- is up against former State Representative Ethan Berkowitz.

Berkowitz, a close ally of former Alaska Governor, Tony Knowles, one of Alaska's least effective chief executives, served ten undistinguished years in the state legislature, eight of them as minority leader.

He claims he fought hard for union rights. But when he went in, Alaska's teachers were among the best paid in the United States. When he left, they were ranked sixteenth in pay.

When he went in, teachers and other employees had a well-endowed, defined benefit retirement plan. When he left, teachers' benefits had eroded to what they call "tier three" up there, which is Alaskan for a lousy 401K plan, like the one at McDonalds.

When Ethan Berkowitz went in to the Alaska legislature, Big Oil ran the place. When he left, except for the work of the FBI, they still did.

Berkowitz had been given detailed information, much of the same used by the FBI in 2006, back as early as 2004, by Alaska muckraker Ray Metcalfe. Metcalfe claims he hand-delivered packets full of incriminating information to Berkowitz. Berkowitz, in answering questions by Democratic Party activist Munger in January, said that he was paralyzed from acting upon it within the legislature, because of House rules.

In his campaigns for the Alaska State House, Berkowitz was sought after with donations by VECO, the company behind the Alaska GOP Corrupt Bastards Club. He was among the top Democratic Party recipients of donations from Bill Weimar, the privatized corrections mogul who bargained a plea with the Feds on August 11. He routinely received more donations from lobbyists than any other Democrat in the Alaska state house. (Does that make him part of the Republican wing of the Democratic Party?)

And now, along with the help he's getting from Emanuel's PAC and Red to Blue, Berkowitz has started his own 2008 Republican-lite "Corrupt Bastards Club." Here's a partial list:

The Anchorage Daily News wrote a report on the 15 highest paid lobbyists in the state of Alaska in 2006. Ethan Berkowitz has received money from a third of them between his 2006 and 2008 campaigns.

Berkowitz receives money from many of the same Lobbyists who have given money to Ted Stevens and Don Young. (2008 and 2006)

Berkowitz has received money from the president of a lobbyist group whose website claims they “have experience persuading Congressman to make their clients needs priority.” (2008)

Berkowitz has received money from lawyers who work at the law firm which represented Exxon during the Exxon Valdez spill. ( Multiple Patton Boggs lawyers in 2008)

Berkowitz has been given money by lobbyist who represent Big Tobacco companies, Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds.

One of Berkowitz's lobbyist friends, GOP stalwart, Robert Evans, never gives to Democrats, unless it is to Berkowitz. He gave the Alaska GOP $10,000 in the past three years.

Berkowitz has been given money by a lobbyist who represents Wal-Mart, which is now making a big play to own a stake of the more corrupt elements in the Democratic caucus.

Berkowitz, while taking money from Emanuel, the Tom DeLay of the Democratic Party, claims, rather incongruously, he will stand up to him, the second he takes his oath of office in Washington, D.C. Remember, this is the same Ethan Berkowitz who, in 2004 and 2005 did nothing with the information that could have saved Alaskans billions in revenues lost to big oil.

Berkowitz's medical care platform calls for tweaking what he calls an otherwise healthy system to maximize benefits. His lack of interest in genuine campaign finance reform is no surprise, given the cast of sordid characters who think he is the face of the Democratic Party for the 21st Century. God help us all if he is!

Our friends at are doing yeoman's work in both Alaska and the Lower 48 to raise consciousness-- and funds-- so that Diane Benson can get her message out and help make change in Alaska not just about exchanging one corrupt political hack for another corrupt political hack. Give Ethan Berkowitz a decade or two and he'll be approaching a Don Young level of corruption. If you want to help take the corruption out of Congress, helping Diane Benson to win this race is as good a place to start as any.

UPDATE: DIANE BENSON has the most extensive story on Diane's campaign thus far. It's a great follow-up to Katrina Vanden Heuvel's Nation feature on Diane last week, Make Way For the Trucker.

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At 6:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like Diane Benson's new campaign commercial that they posted on their website.


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