Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s reelection campaign is responding to a pending news story about improperly using official staff for campaign purposes by challenging the reporter’s credibility because of his marriage to a Juneau Assembly member who supports one of the governor’s opponents.
Sean Maguire, who recently joined the Anchorage Daily News after working at KTUU since 2017, has since last November been married to Juneau assembly member Carole Triem, who is actively campaigning for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Les Gara. Maguire’s story reportedly focuses on Dunleavy’s use of state employees and contractors for campaign-related activities, an allegation raised multiple times by multiple media sources during the governor’s first term.
In a letter sent Saturday to the ADN’s owner, publisher and editor — and widely published elsewhere, resulting in what partisan blogs are calling either a hit job by the reporter or intimidation by the governor — Dunleavy campaign spokesperson Andrew Jensen alleges “an undisclosed conflict of interest.”
“It has come to our attention that Mr. Maguire’s wife, City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Member Carole Triem, is actively and publicly supporting one of the candidates in this race, former state Representative Les Gara,” Jensen’s letter states. “Ms. Triem’s recent social media posts on both Facebook and Twitter have included pictures of her with Mr. Gara, sign-waving for Mr. Gara, encouraging people to vote for Mr. Gara, and a number of comments that are critical of both Governor Mike Dunleavy and former Governor Bill Walker.”
“The ADN has not, to our knowledge, been transparent in the case of Mr. Maguire’s appearance of conflict or actual conflict of interest concerning Ms. Triem’s support of a candidate, and her critical comments about other candidates, in the very election he’s been assigned to cover.”
Jensen, in response to questions sent by email Monday, noted the letter focuses on the alleged conflict and “we did not raise issues with any of Sean’s work in the letter.”
Inquires to Maguire and ADN’s management were not answered.
Triem, in an interview Monday, said she and Maguire have been romantically involved for the past three years, and having the issue raised now was a surprise.
“Sean and I prefer to keep our personal lives private, so it was kind of jarring to see it be the center of attention this weekend,” she said.
Triem’s marriage isn’t noted on the webpage profiling Juneau Assembly members (where spouses of some other members are listed) or on her personal Facebook page. She said potential conflicts about her duties as an Assembly member were discussed when her relationship with Maguire started and they agreed he wouldn’t cover such matters.
But she said her advocacy for Gara and other candidates in non-local elections doesn’t present the same conflict as her official duties.
“I don’t work for the campaign,” Triem said. “I’m not part of the campaign team. I’m not making decisions.”
Previous coverage of Dunleavy’s overlapping use of people for gubernatorial and campaign duties includes last October’s hiring of Jensen, a former editor of the Alaska Journal of Commerce (which is owned by the ADN), as a communications assistant for an annual salary of $90,000. News stories have also cited him as “a volunteer campaign spokesperson” and noted other staff members similarly doing campaign work as volunteers.
“This is not a new story and has previously been reported on,” Jensen wrote in his email comments Monday. ”We cooperated fully with Sean by providing answers in writing and I did a 20 minute interview with him by phone.”
Jensen also noted the letter was sent because “this particular situation came to our attention” and “we are not monitoring media members’ relationships.”
“We feel it needs to be addressed as the general election approaches so that everyone can have confidence in the ADN’s coverage as free of any actual conflict or appearance of conflict,” he wrote.
“I would note that when it comes to conflicts and appearances of conflict, the First Lady and spouses of legislators, for example, are required to file financial disclosures because of the close nature of spousal relationships. Financial disclosure is not required in the case of journalists, but political activity that could create a conflict or appearance of conflict is required to be disclosed under accepted ethics standards.”
Triem said as a result of the letter and subsequent media coverage “I’ve already gotten very vulgar messages…it’s very weird and creepy.”
But, she added, “I’m not going to change anything going forward.”
• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org