AD Main Menu

Anchorage mayor held fundraiser on city-funded D.C. trip

Nathaniel Herz

A lobbying firm that has represented the city in Washington, D.C., hosted a political fund-raiser for Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan that coincided with his official, city-paid trip there earlier this week.

Sullivan and administration officials could not provide the full cost of the trip Friday, but the $2,088 airfare and $1,182 hotel bill for Sullivan and two aides was funded entirely by the city, according to spokeswoman Lindsey Whitt.

She said the fund-raiser, for Sullivan's lieutenant governor campaign, was scheduled after the trip was planned for city business, and that she was not aware of any other campaign-related events.

An invitation obtained by the Daily News said the fund-raiser would be hosted by Blank Rome, a law and lobbying firm that has earned more than $400,000 for lobbying on behalf of the city since Sullivan has been in office, according to federal lobbyist reports posted on the website OpenSecrets.org.

Anchorage's ethics code bars city officials from spending public money "for the support, opposition, or endorsement of candidates for any elected government office" and would make it illegal for Sullivan to have the city pay for a trip that was solely campaign related.

But Dennis Wheeler, the municipal attorney, said Sullivan followed the law because he attended the fund-raiser on his own time.

Sullivan traveled to Washington with the pair of staffers, one of whom is also avolunteer for the lieutenant governor campaign. Sullivan earlier said he went to the capital to lobby for land and money sought by the city for transportation projects, among other matters.

"The mayor goes to Washington, D.C. annually to work on important city issues. This trip was one of them," Whitt said. "The fund-raiser for the candidate was scheduled after the trip to Washington, D.C., was scheduled for city business."

Sullivan did not respond to repeated requests for comment Friday. His campaign consultants, Marc and Jean Hellenthal, declined to comment and directed questions back to Sullivan.

In a telephone interview, Wheeler said that there are no explicit restrictions in city code banning political activity on a publicly funded trip.

"They haven't spent any funds for the support, opposition, or endorsement. That's still true even if they spend their personal time campaigning," he said. "He just took advantage of the fact that he had to be there anyway."

Wheeler referred to the state's ethics laws, which permit executive-branch officials to use state aircraft for political purposes when the use is "collateral or incidental to the normal performance of official duties."

That law, however, requires officials to reimburse the state for the proportion of time they used the aircraft for political purposes.

Wheeler said the Sullivan administration had not consulted the city's ethics board about the trip. The board is responsible for investigating ethics complaints.

Keith Silver, the board's chair, said that the board only conducts investigations in response to complaints, and added that one had not been brought to the board.

He declined to answer questions about the ethics of Sullivan's trip, saying that commenting would preclude him from considering a potential complaint.

The invitation to the fund raiser said it was held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in Washington, at Blank Rome's offices in the city's Watergate complex. The invitation depicted Sullivan in front of the U.S. Capitol.

Sullivan had traveled to Washington with Shalon Harrington, the city's director of government affairs, and Larry Baker, Sullivan's senior policy advisor.

Baker is also a volunteer assisting with Sullivan's lieutenant governor campaign; he did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

During the trip, Sullivan met with members of the state's Congressional delegation, asking for their help in securing several pieces of federal property, as well as funding to complete expansion of the Port of Anchorage.

Sullivan said in a previous interview that he also met with Anchorage's lobbyists, who have been working for the city for the last decade to "keep the heat on our particular issues."

At Blank Rome, the city's principal lobbyist is C.J. Zane, a former chief of staff to Rep. Don Young.

Zane did not respond to requests for comment.

But former Gov. Bill Sheffield called the lobbyist "very effective." Sheffield worked with Zane on federal issues involving the Alaska Railroad..

"He knows his way around the Hill," Sheffield said. "He just knows how the system works."

City officials could not immediately confirm Blank Rome's contractual relationship with the city, but municipal documents provided by Wheeler show that in past years it has been a subcontractor of Chambers, Conlon, and Hartwell -- the city's other lobbying firm.

Blank Rome's employees have made $1,450 in campaign contributions to Sullivan since 2011, including $600 from Zane, who has also made contributions to candidates from both parties in Alaska and other states

Chambers, Conlon, and Hartwell holds a non-competitive contract with the city that was renewed by the Assembly in March. At the time, Sullivan administration officials said that the firm was uniquely qualified for the contract based on its experience lobbying on behalf of the Anchorage port, which the firm has done since 2001.

The Chambers, Conlon contract calls for annual payments of up to $240,000 annually.

Reach Nathaniel Herz at nherz@adn.com or 257-4311.

 


By NATHANIEL HERZ
nherz@adn.com