Recently, newspaper articles have reported about the sole source contract negotiated by Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, to upgrade the Anchorage Legislative Information Office. These reports drew much public criticism. Some say Hawker’s deal doesn’t pass the smell test. Thus, Taj MaHawker Gate.
The smell test is a common term used in some circles to describe an action that is not necessarily illegal but might be embarrassing if all the facts were out in the open.
Politicians are usually very sensitive to, and distance themselves from, anything that may not pass the smell test. This contract is considered by many, including me, to be a sweet deal — a very, very, very sweet deal. Pfeffer Development is the sole source recipient of this contract negotiated with Rep. Hawker on behalf of the state, under the oversight and authority of the House Legislative Council.
If I think an official action emits a foul smell, I first look at campaign contributions as one indicator for something amiss. I did that in this case and found:
• Pfeffer Development and a few of its employees were quite generous with campaign contributions to state lawmakers during the years 2011-14. Skeptics, including myself, might consider this trend a fishing expedition. In this time period, of 60 current Legislative members only 19 did not receive or accept contributions – 18 representatives and one senator (see list below*).
Contributions range from very low to almost $3,ooo in sum, and generally run down party lines. Of course, the majority reaped the most benefit from Pfeffer’s generosity in these years.
I decided to search for only those contributions that exceeded $1,ooo in total from the same time period paid to current lawmakers from the 29th Legislature. This group includes: Anna McKinnon, Bob Herron, Gabrielle LeDoux, Charles Chenault, Craig Johnson, Kevin Meyer, Kurt Olson, Lesil McGuire, Lyman Hoffman, Mia Costello, Mike Hawker and Shelley Hughes. Top recipients are, in order, House Speaker Mike Chenault, Rep. Shelly Hughes and Senate President Kevin Meyer.
Then I looked at lawmakers that have received more than $1,000 in Pfeffer campaign contributions and who sat on the powerful House Legislative Council during the first session of the 28th Legislature (2013). There are five in this subset: Chenault, Hawker, Hughes, Johnson and McGuire. In this dual category, the top recipients are Chenault, Hughes and Hawker, who serves as chairman of the House Legislative Council
It is worth noting that only two of the 14 committee members on the House Legislative Council show no Pfeffer contributions: Sen. John Coghill and Rep. Sam Kito III.
Members who did not receive or accept Pfeffer contributions are: Adam Wool, Andrew Josephson, Benjamin Nageak, Bob Lynn, Dan Saddler, Daniel Ortiz, David Talerico, Geran Tarr, Jim Colver, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Les Gara, Liz Vazquez, Lora Reinbold, Matt Claman, Paul Seaton, Scott Kawasaki, Wes Keller, Kito and Coghill
Do you smell something? Or do you consider it legislative business as usual? It is subjective, so you be the judge.
I think it is business as usual and that’s what stinks. The 2016 election can’t get here quick enough for me.
• Tara Jollie blogs under the nickname LeadDog Alaska. She is a retired deputy commissioner for the Alaska Department of Labor, director of the Community and Regional Affairs and long-time state employee.