Alaska Democrats are claiming that Republican state Senate candidate Bob Bell "continues to stonewall" the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) on Bell's public disclosure forms. At issue is whether or not Bell is required to disclose the amount of money clients pay to a company that Bell manages and largely controls.
Bell is running against Anchorage Democratic Sen. Hollis French in Senate District J in what's considered one of the most hotly contested races in a hotly contested election season. At the heart of the race is the oil tax debate, and whether or not the state should give the oil industry an up-to-$2-billion-a-year break. French has been one of the most vocal senators against the break. Bell has the support of the oil industry.
Initially, the issue with Bell's disclosure was that he didn't list the companies that contracted with F. Bell & Associates, an engineering consultancy firm, as was required, according to APOC staff. The commission's staff investigates complaints and writes reports in advance of APOC meetings.
Because those disclosure rules were recently changed, however, the staff report did not recommend that Bell be fined. Bell also said that he received bad information from APOC when he asked what was supposed to be disclosed.
The candidate subsequently included Bell & Associates' client list, totaling 187 names, among them BP, ExxonMobil and other oilfield service contractors. The amount paid by these companies to Bell & Associates totaled more than $7.6 million. The Democrats are calling for that number to be itemized.
Bell said that because he doesn't own the company, he shouldn't have to disclose how much each client pays Bell & Associates. Besides, he said, the company has confidentiality agreements with some of its clients. Bell has given that information to APOC but does not want it public, he said.
Bell hasn't officially owned Bell & Associates since 2007, when he put the shares of the company into a stock option plan. However, he's still president and CEO of the company and still actively manages the business. Further, according to APOC staff, Bell manages the business to "insure that the company not only pays his salary but that the company will continue to provide him substantial interest payments owed for his agreement to place his company into" the stock option plan. According to his APOC forms, that interest is between $200,000 and $500,000.
Because of the controlling interest Bell holds in Bell & Associates, APOC staff "believes that Mr. Bell is required to list income from individual clients."
The issue will be taken up by the full commission in late October. The commission has in the past disagreed with conclusions and decisions reached during APOC staff investigations.
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