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Alaska legislator criticizes state corporation's charity golf tournament

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published June 29, 2015

A state-owned corporation was playing defense Monday after a Wasilla legislator criticized it for sponsoring a golf tournament that saw employees on the links during business hours last week, as Alaska confronts a multibillion-dollar annual budget deficit.

The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. said 20 of its employees, including CEO Bryan Butcher, played in the tournament Thursday morning at Moose Run Golf Course in Arctic Valley, on the outskirts of Anchorage.

But all those employees paid their own entry fees and took personal leave to participate, a spokeswoman for AHFC, Stacy Schubert, wrote in an email Monday.

"No federal, state general funds or corporate receipts went into the event," Schubert wrote. "All hard costs are covered by sponsorships and team/player fees."

The event, Schubert added, raised an estimated $15,000 for the Nome Boys and Girls Club.

Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, criticized the tournament in a press release Friday, saying it was "symptomatic of a concerning trend within Alaska's public corporations -- forgetting that they operate with public dollars."

In a phone interview Monday, Gattis said she didn't want to "beat up one particular agency."

She said she was targeting a mentality "across the board" of state government, and she also cited community picnics already held or scheduled by the office of Gov. Bill Walker.

"You don't have the right to give state money away, and that's ultimately what you're doing when you're giving away your time," she said.

Walker said in a prepared statement he agreed with Gattis that "in these challenging fiscal times, we should be prudent about the use of state money and resources." And he said he was "encouraged" to hear AHFC didn't use state money to coordinate the event.

Walker's spokeswoman, Katie Marquette, added the only picnic the governor has held so far this year was in Fairbanks. The event was organized by volunteers and all the food was donated by local businesses and organizations, she said in an email.

Another picnic is planned for Anchorage and will be similarly funded by nongovernmental groups.

Marquette acknowledged staff time is required to coordinate the picnics but added: "This is no different than legislators and their staff coordinating constituent town halls or pizza parties in their home district."

Gattis said she learned of the golf tournament from an AHFC employee's Facebook post about the event that featured the caption: "Not a bad morning at the office!"

AHFC's mission is to "provide Alaskans access to safe, quality, affordable housing," its website says.

The corporation paid a $19 million dividend to the state in the 2014 fiscal year, but finished the year with a $3.3 million net loss. CEO Butcher's 2014 salary was $253,000.

Asked why the agency had hosted the tournament -- an AHFC tradition for at least 20 years -- Schubert responded, "getting the word out about the work AHFC does is not easy.

"The golf tournament allows us to interact with our partners on a personal level, requires no state or AHFC money to put on, and enhances employee morale through teamwork across departments," Schubert said in her email.

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