The Alaska House Legislative Ethics Committee on Wednesday dismissed complaints against sitting and former state lawmakers who were accused of allowing “an unregistered lobbyist” for an anti-abortion organization to use their Capitol offices as a “base of operations.”
The complaints were filed in April 2022 against two Wasilla Republicans, Rep. David Eastman and former Rep. Christopher Kurka. The identity of the person who filed the complaints was kept confidential under state law.
The complaints allege that Eastman and Kurka allowed Pat Martin, head of Alaska Right to Life, to use their offices for several hours in April 2022 when Martin traveled from his home in Wasilla to the state Capitol in Juneau “with the stated intent to distribute signed petitions to the Legislature.”
State law prohibits lawmakers from using public facilities “for a non-legislative purpose.” The law also requires lawmakers to avoid “conflicts of interest or even appearance of conflicts of interest.” The complaint alleges that these laws were violated.
The legislative ethics committee dismissed the complaints after a monthslong process that had been prolonged due to the sudden death of a staff member. The committee has not yet provided reasoning for its decision. A written dismissal order is set to be published in the coming days, according to the committee administrator.
The complaints state that “it is unknown if (Martin) was allowed to use computers or telephones” in Eastman’s and Kurka’s offices. An investigation conducted by the committee did not find definitive indications that Martin had used facilities inside Kurka’s or Eastman’s offices during efforts to deliver anti-abortion petitions.
During his visit to Juneau, Martin “was visiting other offices to lobby legislators and intimidate staffers,” according to the complaint.
Testifying on the complaint, Martin has recounted “hostile” interactions with Rep. Kevin McCabe, a Big Lake Republican, and Sen. Shelley Hughes, a Palmer Republican, during his Capitol visit.
Martin is not a registered lobbyist with the state, but he was in Juneau in April 2022 “lobbying for Alaska Right to Life,” according to an investigation conducted by the committee. His organization had gathered petitions to submit to the Legislature calling for it to pass a law banning the use of public funds for abortion access.
Martin has chaired several anti-abortion independent expenditure groups, including one in 2021 called “The Alaska Pro-Life Accountability Project” and a 2022 group called “Alaska Right to Life Stop Killing Babies Fund.”
“Allowing an aggressive activist and lobbyist to use your office as his base of operating in the Capitol building is a misuse of State resources,” the complaints state.
In previous testimony before the ethics committee, Martin said that he spent a long time in the offices of Eastman and Kurka because “he wanted photos with them and the petitions that he had brought” but he was asked to wait until the lawmakers were done with other meetings.
Several people called in to the legislative ethics committee meeting Wednesday to ask its members to dismiss the complaints, including people who had worked for Kurka and Eastman in the Legislature.
Joe Miller, an attorney and former Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Alaska, represented both Kurka and Eastman in the hearing.
“When you say that a person that comes to Juneau to have impact on the public process may end up causing sanctions to be applied to those legislators whose office that person visits, that obviously is going to chill public contact,” Miller said Wednesday.
“I daresay that many if not most legislators are going to somehow fall askance of a standard that suggests that hours in the office translates into, ‘This person is conducting a base of operations,’” Miller added.
This is not the first time that Eastman — a Republican who was kept out of the GOP-dominated House majority coalition last year because of his combative tactics — has faced complaints that he violated legislative ethics rules. The committee found Eastman violated ethics rules by disclosing committee business to a reporter in 2017.