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Why was an FBI informant working for Alaska political campaigns?

Jill Burke

In the 10 months Bill Fulton worked as a paid FBI informant in a sweeping investigation of an Alaska militia, he also lent a hand to political candidates in the 2010 elections.

The candidates -- Joe Miller and Eddie Burke, who both have railed against the federal government -- had no idea of Fulton's secret role in the investigation. It was only in March, when the Feds busted up the Alaska Peacemaker Militia, that Fulton's name surfaced as a key informant.

Yet during the lead up of the investigation, Fulton served as campaign treasurer for Burke, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in the GOP primary. Fulton also made national headlines in October when he handcuffed an Alaska Dispatch editor during a campaign rally for U.S. Senate candidate Miller. Fulton provided security at the event, which was held at a public school.

Even then, Miller and Burke had no idea Fulton was working for the government. And the FBI continued its relationship with Fulton.

Should Fulton have told the political hopefuls he was spending some of his time feeding information to the government about a militia with anti-government leanings? Or should he have stayed away from the candidates altogether?

Soon after the arrests of the militia members made headlines in March, Fulton dropped out of sight. Days later he abruptly signed over his Anchorage-based military supply store, Drop Zone, to an employee, given control of his house to his attorney, and vanished. In the weeks and months ahead, his contribution to the militia investigation would become more evident. In February, Fulton helped coordinate a statewide militia summit at an Anchorage hotel. He helped broker the sale of grenades and firearms to the group, at times talking with some of the militia members about such deals inside his store on Spenard, according to accounts of the investigation contained in court records.

'Bill's a patriot'

Burke and Miller have both said they don’t believe anyone -- either Fulton or the FBI -- meant any harm to their campaigns. Burke himself has no issue with Fulton having secretly worked for the Feds, and there's no indication that Fulton was targeting either Burke or Miller in connection with his gig moonlighting with FBI.

"Bill may have saved lives. Bill's a patriot," Burke said in a recent interview. "He was being a hero."

While Burke, who considers Fulton a friend, is openly supportive of Fulton, Miller is maintaining an arm's length stance to his dealings with the former bounty hunter and military surplus store owner.

"Fulton was not 'close' to me or my campaign," Miller said via email through his spokesman Randy DeSoto, explaining that Fulton's role in the campaign was insignificant and short-lived.  

Fulton provided security for a town hall Miller held in October, brought in at the request of a campaign volunteer, according to DeSoto. The assignment went badly when Fulton detained Alaska Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger. After the ensuing public relations mess -- which struck in the weeks leading up to the November election -- the Miller campaign decided if it needed event security again, they'd tap someone other than Fulton and his military surplus store, Drop Zone.  

Other than a few hours spent working as a security guard for an afternoon event, Fulton had nothing to do with the campaign, Miller said.

"Fulton's actions at that town hall meeting occurred without my direction or approval … I was not even in the building when the handcuffing occurred," said Miller, adding that "Nevertheless, paid government informants should not be campaign managers or otherwise involved in political campaigns."

Miller declined to answer directly whether he felt Fulton's security work equated to Fulton getting "otherwise involved" in his Senate campaign. It may be a moot point. Regardless of what Fulton did for the FBI or why, Miller doesn't believe his run at public office suffered because of it.

"I want to make it explicitly clear that I do not believe that Bill Fulton acted with the intent to harm our campaign during the Anchorage town hall meeting this past October. In other words, I do not buy into any type of federal conspiracy against the Joe Miller for U.S. Senate Campaign," he said.

A 'confidential human source' who likes politics?

Court records show Fulton began working for the FBI as early as June 2010. By then he had already signed on to help with Eddie Burke's campaign for lieutenant governor, and financial records for the campaign show Drop Zone provided more than $12,000 in advertising materials to Burke's bid for office.

A few months later, Fulton made an appearance at the August primary, and five months into his paid work with the FBI Fulton found himself hired to work the town hall meeting.

In the FBI's world, Fulton would be considered a "confidential human source" -- someone with access to information of value to investigators but who is not an employee of the FBI.

While some might bristle at the thought of an FBI agent intentionally installing him or herself into a political campaign for the purposes of spying on the campaign or its candidate -- a sensitive matter which would undoubtedly be cleared with and handled at the highest levels of the Justice Department -- Fulton appears to have done nothing more than to go about business as usual: helping a friend and accepting a security job to help earn a living. (Whether Fulton was ever paid by Miller's campaign for the town hall event is unclear. Federal election records show the campaign did send $315 to Drop Zone at the end of 2010 for "recount personnel," but no further description is offered.)

Informants are allowed to lead their lives however they choose, said Eric Gonzalez, a special agent and spokesman with the FBI in Anchorage. They're required to obey the law, but otherwise are pretty much free from FBI-generated rules or obligations that might impact their daily living.

"Confidential human sources can go out and earn a living. They can associate with whomever they want to. They have the same rights and freedoms that we all possess," Gonzalez said.

Dropping hints

In hindsight, knowing that Fulton was secretly working with the FBI makes some odd occurrences from that time same period make more sense, Burke said. On one occasion when Burke had stopped by for a routine visit, Fulton shooed the candidate from his office inside Drop Zone, explaining that he had people he needed to visit with and couldn't have Burke around. Burke didn’t think much of it, but it was unusual, he said.

Fulton had also warned Burke to stay away from Schaeffer Cox, a militia leader now awaiting trial from jail on state-federal cases in connection with an alleged kidnapping and murder plot against a state judge and members of law enforcement -- the same case Fulton is being paid to help the FBI with.

Cox and Burke had known each other through one of Cox's groups, the Second Amendment Task Force. But the more Burke came to know about Cox and his politics, the more he felt Cox was an ungrounded "goof ball" who needed to tone down his activities and maintain a lower profile, he said.

As Burke's campaign progressed, Fulton renewed his warnings for Burke to avoid Cox, even suggesting that if Burke had any reason to be in contact with Cox, that he find a messenger to act as a go-between, Burke said.

"Bill was trying to do the right thing," Burke said of Fulton's decision to work with the FBI. "In his heart of hearts he felt that something was not right and that these people were up to no good."

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com