Oil lobbyist treated legislator to meal after oil tax vote

Retiring Anchorage Republican Rep. Mike Hawker accepted a $78 dinner from an oil company lobbyist the same day Hawker went to Juneau for his first vote in two months, casting the deciding vote on an oil tax bill criticized by Democrats and some Republicans as being too industry friendly.

The meal was purchased by ConocoPhillips lobbyist Michael Hurley on June 6, the same day House Bill 247 was approved 21-19. Hawker's presence was essential — the Alaska Constitution requires 21 votes for passage.

Hawker is suffering from terminal cancer and hadn't attended a floor session since early April.

Hawker's dinner was disclosed Friday in Hurley's most recent lobbying report. The report also included a $76 meal the same night for Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna. Olson is an ally of Hawker and the House leadership.

Hawker's wife, Carol Carlson, works for ConocoPhillips as a financial analyst, with an salary in the range of $200,000 to $500,000, according to Hawker's most recent financial disclosure.

Asked about whether it was appropriate to accept the dinner from Hurley, Hawker, in a brief phone interview Monday, said a reporter was "smoking dope" and "reading way too much into this." He said the dinner — which also included Teamsters lobbyist Barbara Huff Tuckness — was with "three colleagues" commemorating his retirement after 14 years in the Legislature.

"They think a great deal of me and my public service," Hawker said. "The only thing that dinner was about was, 'It's the end of 14 years — let's go and have dinner.' "


Hurley said Hawker did the oil company no favor.

"We opposed the legislation and he voted for it," Hurley said.

Hurley pointed out that the vote had taken place earlier in the day, before dinner, and he wasn't attempting to influence Hawker. In the past, he said, he had meals in which Hawker paid, but those go unreported because no one is required to disclose them.

HB 247 reduced cash subsidies and scaled back tax credits for oil companies.

"That bill raised taxes on the oil industry across the board," Hawker said.

But House Democrats and some Republicans criticized the final version of the legislation, saying it didn't go far enough. Before HB 247 was approved, the Senate amended it to preserve a tax credit available only to the four companies that produce more than 50,000 barrels a day in Alaska: Hilcorp, BP, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

The House, in a previous version of HB 247 backed by Democrats and some Republicans, had proposed eliminating the credit for the four companies.

State ethics laws bar lawmakers and their aides from accepting gifts from lobbyists, but there's an exemption for food or drink for "immediate consumption."

Hurley, the Conoco lobbyist, has reported purchasing food or beverages for Hawker on four other occasions in 2016, and every year dating back to 2011. Hurley has also reported buying food or beverages in 2015 and 2016 for Anchorage Democratic Rep. Matt Claman.

Claman didn't respond to a phone message Monday.

Several lobbyists have reported purchasing food and drink for legislators this year — including John Bitney and Bob Evans, who bought dinner for Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage. That was one week before Meyer voted with other members of a legislative committee to recommend the purchase of a building developed by one of the lobbyists' clients.

The provision of state ethics law allowing lawmakers to accept meals and drinks from lobbyists dates back to 1992 legislation proposed by a special Senate ethics committee. Former Fairbanks Republican Sen. Steve Frank, the committee's vice chair, said he didn't remember the specifics of the bill, but added: "One would hope that a dinner wouldn't influence somebody's vote."

Asked about the appearance of a lawmaker accepting a meal from a lobbyist, Frank said it would depend on whether "it's in conjunction with other things."

"I think it behooves a legislator to bend over backwards to create the right kind of image for himself or herself, and I think you have to be aware of how you're being perceived irrespective of whether it is or isn't," he said in a phone interview. He added: "If I were a legislator, I'd probably pick up my own tab so that I wouldn't have to answer that question."

Nathaniel Herz

Anchorage-based independent journalist Nathaniel Herz has been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. Read his newsletter, Northern Journal, at natherz.substack.com