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2/27/2008 -- 2 assemblymen cited in probe: Tape of talk between Coffey, Starr at issue

Alaska Public Offices Commission staff filed a complaint Tuesday against assemblymen Dan Coffey and Bill Starr and plans to investigate possible violations of campaign finance laws.

"As a result of the information we have we will institute an investigation, " said APOC investigator Jeff Berliner. "It's too early to judge where that might go or what it might show."

Staff of the state campaign finance watchdog agency filed the complaint after hearing a recording obtained byKUDO 1080 radio. The two assemblymen, who didn't seem to know anyone was listening, talk on the recording about campaign donations and endorsements.

The recording sounds like a cell phone conversation between Coffey and Starr.

It's sometimes hard to hear, about three minutes long.

KUDO talk show host ­Aaron Selbig told listeners Tuesday that the clip was somehow accidentally left on someone'sanswering machine, and that it had been delivered to the FBI and APOC as well as the radio station.

He wouldn't say where the station got the recording.

On the tape, Coffey says to Starr: "Well we're really cranking. I took, I took 1,500 dollars in for uh, Sherri Jackson and gave it to (undecipherable) and asked her to give it to her.

"And I took some, took 1,250 in to Tesche ... not Tesche, Traini."

Jackson is running for Assembly in West Anchorage. Incumbent Dick Traini is defending his Midtown seat.

State laws say that only people who are registered as a candidate's treasurer or deputy treasurer can collect checks on their behalf.

Coffey said Tuesday night that he asked Traini's and Jackson's campaigns to register him as a deputy treasurer.

Traini said he did. Jackson said she didn't.

"He tells a lot of people that you should put me on there (as a treasurer), and he probably did and I did not, " she said.

Coffey said he gave Jackson's checks to Assemblyman Dan Sullivan, to give to her.

Jackson said Sullivan delivered checks on Feb. 14 and said she needed to register him with the APOC.

She said she added Sullivan as a deputy treasurer Tuesday, but should have sooner. "It was an honest mistake."

The next few seconds of the tape are tough to hear. Then Coffey's voice comes in clear: "I'm doling it out $250 at a crack. ... I'll going to be able to: 'Hey, you didn't vote right last week. You don't get your second 250.'"

"My way or the freeway, " Starr replies.

Coffey said those comments about money for votes were joking banter between colleagues.

"It was a joke. Probably in poor taste in hindsight, but nonetheless a joke, " he said.

Coffey said he can't remember where or when the conversation took place. Starr said it sounds like the audio came from different conversations or was spliced together.

"Or there's been elements of it left out, " he said.

Starr is running for re-election in Eagle River. In the recording, he talks about the police union not backing him.

"They're not going to declare a position in my race, " Starr says. "And I said well, if you ain't for me, you must be against me. ... And I called the chief right after that, said chief, (former city manager) Denis LeBlanc took pot shots on me out the door, on the way out. I said if the rank and file think I'm not there for them, then you need to correct that."

The conversation is again tough to hear, but Starr says he's been supporting a shooting park favored by police.

Was he threatening to pull support for the range if he didn't get an endorsement?

Starr said no in an interview Tuesday. He said he couldn't make or break the deal anyway -- but acknowledged he was frustrated at not getting an endorsement.

"If the police department and police union's group, you know, don't appreciate those extra efforts, then, then you're somewhat correct, because I'll stop doing them."

That would be "out of aggravation that I'm not being acknowledged for my hard work, " rather than as a threat, Starr said.

Assemblyman Allan ­Tesche, a frequent guest on Selbig's talk show, was asked if he had provided the recording. He wouldn't say.

"I've been asked by law enforcement not to speculate as to the origins of that tape, " he said.