Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Alaska Public Offices Commission To Investigate Anchorage Assemblymen Bill Starr And Dan Coffey Over Campaign Contribution Irregularities

The Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) is launching an investigation into the actions of two Anchorage Assembly members. The campaign watchdog agency says it's basing its probe on a recording aired by radio station KUDO 1080AM Tuesday February 26th, 2008. Full story reported by KTUU Channel 2 Anchorage and the Anchorage Daily News.

In the recording, Assembly Chair Dan Coffey (pictured above left) and Assemblyman Bill Starr (pictured below left) allegedly talk about handing out cash for other Assembly candidates. Both men say the phone call may be in bad taste but insist they never meant to break any laws and went out of their way to make sure that didn't happen.

Click HERE to read the full transcript of the recording. Caution, there are some "f-bombs".

"It seems clear that what Dan Coffey and Bill Starr are doing here is dolling out campaign contributions in increments of $250 dollars as an incentive to get their fellow members to vote their way," said KUDO radio host Aaron Selbig, who aired the transcript on his afternoon show, which is on from 3 P.M. to 6 P.M. Monday through Friday.

In the first part of the recording, Coffey and Starr are discussing raising money for their preferred candidates, but doling it out $250 at a time. In the case of Dick Traini, who's running for re-election, that tactic would be used as leverage to ensure Traini votes the way Coffey wants him to. But although the talk got tough, Coffey claims it was just a joke, although he admits it was in poor taste.

In another section of the recording, Starr is upset the Anchorage Police Department's union (APDEA) won't endorse him for re-election even though he's been fighting to get them a shooting range in Eklutna. He says they're upset with him because he won't support APD officers using their patrol cars to drive home if they live in the Valley. However, Starr said he wasn't threatening to stop supporting the shooting range.

"If the police union groups and shooting park people don't appreciate me then I'm less motivated to do it that's human nature," he said. "There is no threat that I would get in there and upset the deal that's not the way I do business."

Coffey he says he asked Jackson and Traini to list him as their campaigns' deputy treasury. If they do he can legally help raise money and then deliver it to the candidate. If they don't, it's not legal. But Coffey isn't listed as their treasurer, according to campaign finance records, and that's where the issue with APOC lies.

"I don't check it guys, I don't have time to check it," Coffey said. "I tell the campaigns list me. If they do then its not a problem if they don't I can't list myself. It's the duty of the campaign to do this." Traini says he sent the paperwork in to list Coffey as campaign treasurer a few days ago.

Sherri Jackson says Coffey asked her to list him as her deputy treasurer. She says she must not have taken him seriously and did not. She says she will be calling Coffey to apologize and she'll file the paperwork as soon as she can.

Nobody is really certain how the call was recorded. KUDO says it's possible Coffey double-clicked his cell phone. The station won't reveal how it got the tape. When Assemblyman Allan Tesche, a frequent guest on Selbig's talk show and a bitter rival of Coffey, was asked if he had provided the recording, he wouldn't say. "I've been asked by law enforcement not to speculate as to the origins of that tape," Tesche said.

While Coffey is not up for re-election this year, Bill Starr is being challenged by Anthony Lemons. Lemons has not reacted publicly to the information about Starr yet.

And Dick Traini's got troubles of his own. An Anchorage doctor, Peter Mjos, has filed a lawsuit against the city clerk and against the city, saying Assemblyman Dick Traini shouldn’t be allowed to run for re-election because of term limits. Dr. Mjos claims that Traini is on his third term right now. Click here to read the complaint. Traini is opposed by Elvi Gray-Jackson.

City rules say you can serve three consecutive terms. The question in Traini’s case, is whether each “term” has to be a full three years, or if a partial elected term counts against him too. A lawyer hired by the city clerk wrote an opinion saying Traini could run again. Click here to read that opinion.

Traini was appointed to the Assembly in 2001, then won election to finish a one-year term before being elected to full terms in 2002 and 2005. City term limit rules say you can serve three consecutive terms.

The lawyer who filed the suit is Bruce Bookman, who is working pro bono. “If the court rules that the clerk is not correct -- then if there’s time, Mr. Traini could be taken off the ballot,” he said. “If there’s not time, I think there’s only one person running otherwise, and assuming the person had a few votes, they would be elected…"

However, I don't believe that Dr. Mjos is acting out of purely altruistic motives. A check of the APOC campaign contributions record on Elvi Gray-Jackson reveals that on January 25th, 2008, Dr. Mjos contributed $150 to her campaign via credit card (transaction #124). Hmmm...

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