Sen. Lisa Murkowski's write-in candidacy is being funded by $100,000 contributions from a handful of Alaska corporations that have been handsomely subsidized by the federal government. These six-figure donors have pulled in billions of taxpayer dollars thanks to special legislative favors from Murkowski and her mentors — the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R), and Lisa's father, former senator and governor, Frank Murkowski (R).
“Alaskans Standing Together,” a special campaign committee, was formed late last month to attack Republican nominee Joe Miller and support Murkowski through ads. In late September AST took in $800,000 from nine Alaska Native Corporations — unique, privileged, and politically connected for-profit entities created in the 1970s by legislation written by Stevens.
While the companies are technically owned by the natives, the taxpayer-funded spoils from these contracts accrue to the well-connected nonnative lobbyists, subcontractors, and executives in the “Alaska mafia” made up of aides, friends and donors of Stevens, the Murkowskis, and Rep. Don Young (R). Meanwhile the 130,000 Alaska Natives, who are shareholders in the ANCs, have received $720 million over the last nine years, which comes to $615 per native annually. In effect, the natives are unwitting frontmen for this racket.
Critics on Capitol Hill say this is worse than Jack Abramoff's exploitation of Indian tribes, and, in a dark joke, dub the ANCs with the politically incorrect name “rent-an-Eskimo.”
Nine of the largest “rent-an-Eskimo” operations, all of which have Alaska mafia dons as lobbyists or executives, cut large checks — not from political action committees, but from their corporate treasuries — to finance Murkowski's write-in bid through Alaskans Standing Together, according to Oct. 11 campaign finance filings. AST, in turn, spent $595,000 in the final days of September attacking Miller.
The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, for instance, retains lobbying firm Van Ness Feldman — a hub of the Alaska mafia, employing Lisa Murkowski donor Alan Mintz, and former Young aide Rick Agnew. The firm represents a handful of ANCs and pipeline companies, and its PAC has given at least $6,000 to Murkowski this election.
AHTNA, another native corporation ($50,000 to the pro-Murkowski committee) retains lobbyist Jack Ferguson, described by many Republicans from Alaska and K Street as the ringleader of the Alaska mafia. Ferguson was a top aide to Stevens and Young.
The pro-Murkowski ANCs — AHTNA, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, Sealaska, Bering Straits Native Corporation and four others — pocketed more than $16 billion in federal contracts between 2000 and 2009, with a quarter of that from no-bid contracts, thanks in part to special treatment they receive under laws passed by Stevens, Young and the Murkowskis.
These multimillion-dollar (in some cases billion-dollar) corporations are exempt from competition requirements that cover most federal contracts because they are automatically treated as small businesses from socially and economically disadvantaged populations — although their success in pulling in federal contracts would suggest otherwise.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., wrote in a recent report, “The GAO has repeatedly reported that some sole-source procurements to ANCs have resulted in paying significantly more for services and products than were warranted.” Arctic Slope, for instance, together with another ANC, got a $1.13 billion no-bid contract to do logistics work for the Navy in Florida, Puerto Rico and elsewhere, according to McCaskill's report.
These overpriced no-bid contracts aren't welfare for poor natives as much as they are patronage for politically connected lobbyists and executives, most of whom are not natives.
McCaskill's study of ANCs found that between dividends and benefits, the average Alaska native got about $615 per year last decade.
Meanwhile, Mintz, Agnew, Ferguson and other K Street members of the Alaska mafia indirectly pocket much of this contract dough through lobbying fees.
The same is true of the corporations' executives. Those ANCs who do put a native in the CEO slot often pay nonnative vice presidents more than the CEOs. Bering Straits, for instance, paid two nonnative VPs nearly twice as much it paid its CEO, who was a native. McCaskill obtained compensation data from a few of the biggest ANCs and found that 69 percent of their executive compensation went to nonnatives.
Throw in the hefty subcontracting that often goes to nonnative-run companies, and the “rent-an-Eskimo” description rings sadly true.
The ANCs highlight the truly corrupt aspect of pork-barrel spending, especially in Alaska. “Bringing home the bacon” is not simply about transferring wealth north from the Lower 48 — it's often about using taxpayer money to line the pockets of the politically connected, who return the favor in the form of campaign contributions. Much of the pork doesn't make it all the way to Alaska — it stays right here on K Street.
It's no wonder these corporations are spending big to save their patroness Lisa Murkowski
Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on ExaminerPolitics.com.