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Previous editions of this article in print and on the Web incorrectly identified state Rep. Jay Ramras (R) as Ray Ramras. This version has been corrected.
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'I'll Sell My Soul to the Devil'

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is alleged to have known that his Anchorage home was being renovated in 2000 by Alaska oil-field services company Veco and its top executive, Bill Allen. Stevens's son, Ben, a former state legislator, allegedly received almost a quarter of a million dollars in fees that were actually bribes.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is alleged to have known that his Anchorage home was being renovated in 2000 by Alaska oil-field services company Veco and its top executive, Bill Allen. Stevens's son, Ben, a former state legislator, allegedly received almost a quarter of a million dollars in fees that were actually bribes. (By Al Grillo -- Associated Press)

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Smith relents: "You have to get dirty and you have to produce; I understand that."

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Alaskans' disappointment with all this has taken several forms.

Few profess shock.

"It was common knowledge that everything was corrupt," said Ray Metcalfe, a former Republican legislator known as "Disco Ray" while in office, but known in later years for his vain efforts to persuade state officials to investigate Ben Stevens. "It was common knowledge, but nobody wanted to talk about it."

The brazenness evident on the tapes has taken many aback, however.

"There's a whole kind of culture of unreality," said Michael Carey, former editorial page editor of the Anchorage Daily News, whose Web site, http://www.adn.com, posted much of the evidence. "I always thought there were people on the take, but in the way of campaign contributions -- traditionally legitimate ways to game the system."

Indeed, the fallout has some officials wondering what "normal" means in Alaska politics. Last month, a Fairbanks Republican accused a mining company of bribing private citizens by flying them to Anchorage and giving them spending money.

"I don't know if this is immoral behavior, illegal behavior, unethical behavior or just raw capitalism," said Rep. Jay Ramras. In the end, upon encountering one of the men he had accused, "we hugged it out, like they say on the HBO show 'Entourage.' "

Veco's bribes went to public officials, totaling $400,000, Allen testified. But some residents expressed dismay at the puny size of individual transactions. Kohring was convicted of taking around $2,000.

"The fact of the matter is, we all want to bribe a politician," said Mr. Whitekeys, an Anchorage entertainer whose long-running political cabaret is called the Whale Fat Follies. "We all thought it'd take a Mercedes or a Porsche. Nobody knew you could buy a politician for the cost of a used riding lawn mower."

Alaskans also express a regret bordering on shame that the misdeeds were uncovered by the feds. The state is deeply ambivalent about Washington. Thanks in large part to Ted Stevens's seniority, Alaska receives more federal money per capita than any other state, a situation that tends to undermine the image of flinty self-reliance.

It also encourages cronyism. Bob Kaufman, a Web tourism entrepreneur who moved to Anchorage as a venture capitalist, said that every one of a half-dozen businesses he researched for acquisition depended on a government subsidy for profitability.

"Most of the companies up here, I look at them and say, 'I'm not as valuable as an owner up here, because I don't have any buddies in politics,' " Kaufman said.

Still, the tapes produced sentiments that overwhelm even resentment toward Washington. "I spoke at a meeting of Alaska Conservation Voters recently, mentioned the FBI -- and people applauded!" said Vic Fisher.

The outrage helped Democrats push through ethics legislation last session, and in November catapulted a reformer into the governor's chair. Republican Sarah Palin was already running on clean government when the first indictments landed, right between the primary and general election.

In office, Palin has kept up the drumbeat, last month summoning lawmakers back for a new special session on the very oil-tax issue that brought the FBI to Juneau. In an interview, Palin said she wanted to "clear the legislature's name" by "allowing legislators the opportunity to revote.

"Those who are left," she added.


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