Murkowski's 'Alaska Mafia' and the public dole

Once insurgent conservative Joe Miller knocked off moderate Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska's Senate primary, almost all Beltway Republicans lined up behind Miller. But thanks to Alaska's unique political culture, there is a small cadre — mostly former staffers for Murkowski and other Alaska lawmakers — supporting her quixotic write-in race for re-election.

Murkowski's bid has brought attention to a quiet but significant clique on K Street composed of former aides to Murkowksi, her father, Frank, former Sen. Ted Stevens, and Rep. Don Young, who specialize in lobbying for energy interests, Alaskan natives, and Alaska's towns and cities. The phrase “Alaska mafia” slips off the tongue of many Republican staffers, activists, and lobbyists who have dealt with this clique.

[Click here for a partial diagram of the “Alaska mafia.”]

“They've done a very good job of looking out for each other,” one Republican lobbyist told me. Stevens, Young and the Murkowskis have shared plenty of staff, and sent dozens of aides to lobby on K Street. These aides served as invisible middlemen in the earmark machine run by the venerable Alaska Republicans.

Stevens was a champion porker who once bragged, “I am guilty of asking the Senate for pork and proud of the Senate for giving it to me.” Young was chairman of the House Transportation Committee. Lisa Murkowski was put on the Appropriations Committee in her first full term, and her father chaired the Energy and Natural Resources Committee before becoming governor.

Their aides grease the skids, cash in on K Street, and then donate to Murkowski and Young. Cordova, Alaska, population 2,500, boasts a former Lisa Murkowski staffer as a lobbyist. Another lobbyist, Jon DeVore, who worked for Ted Stevens, Frank Murkowski and Lisa Murkowski in the Senate, now represents a handful of Alaska Native Corporations — government-created, for-profit entities owned by indigenous Alaskans. DeVore — a Murkowski donor — works at the lobbying firm Birch, Horton, a hub of the Alaska Mafia.

Besides representing cities and native corporations, K Street's Alaska contingent is heavy on the oil and pipeline clients, for obvious reasons — it's the state's leading industry.

But the Murkowski-Murkowski-Stevens-Young crowd isn't just lobbying for laissez-faire, unbridled drilling and mining everywhere. Consider Andrew Lundquist, another Lisa Murkowski donor who worked on energy policy for Stevens and the elder Murkowski before co-piloting former Vice President Cheney's infamous energy task force.

In 2003, Lundquist left the White House and started his own lobbying firm specializing in “green energy” and clients backing climate regulation right out of Al Gore's playbook. Lundquist's clients include cap-and-trade backers BP, Exelon, Duke Energy and ConocoPhillips as well as the Solar Energy Industries Association, Hudson Clean Energy Partners and the American Coalition for Ethanol.

This flexibility shows in Lisa's legislative record, too. Her 2009 energy bill included renewable energy subsidies, and she has voted for renewable energy mandates.

Earmarks, federal aid, energy subsidies and renewable mandates are hardly what one would expect on the agenda of a supposedly conservative state that styles itself as ruggedly individualistic pioneer country. Washington conservatives often express frustration that such a conservative state should produce moderates and big spenders — especially Stevens and Lisa Murkowski.

But this pork culture, and the streak of moderation, is the natural product of Alaska's status as nearly a federal colony.

The federal government owns almost all of the land in Alaska, rendering moot a leave-us-alone attitude. Also, environmental groups see so much public relations value in “protecting” Alaska that they've fought tirelessly — and successfully — to block logging, drilling and mining.

And then there's the Alaska Permanent Fund, a government-run redistribution of oil revenues to all residents.

Alaskans may own lots of guns and care little for the Lower 48, but in effect they're living in a socialist microcosm. And Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski are what Republicans look like in such a world.

With her connections, seniority, powerful committee posts and bipartisan alliances, Murkowski is a better fit for Alaska's political class — especially the lobbyists — than the staunch conservative Joe Miller, who is a transplant to Alaska, after all.

Just as ideology takes a back seat for the “Alaska Mafia,” so does party. Most Alaska voters aren't registered in any party. When Murkowski's chief of staff — former lobbyist Karen Knutson — solicited K Street support for Murkowski's write-in campaign, she reached out to Democratic lobbyist Heather Podesta.

A potential Murkowski loss threatens the livelihood of K Street's Alaska Mafia. With Stevens and Frank Murkowski gone, Lisa Murkowski is the Mafia's last Senate asset. If she's replaced by an ideological fiscal conservative like Miller, the other Alaska pipeline — the one carrying federal dollars north — could shut down.

Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on ExaminerPolitics.com.

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