August 05, 2007

The Last Frontier of Cheap Bribes and Broken Futures

Stevens, Young and Murkowski's wonderland of corruption is only going to spread. For Ted Stevens alone, there are three or four main arcs of corruption here, and they feed into each other, the VECO-remodelled house, the bookkeeper doing his personal business on a federal salary, the earmarks that put money in his son's pocket.

Washington Post.
Seattle Times.
ABC News- on the bookkeeper.
Capital Eye - List of Federal VECO recipients..

And, like watching your great aunt finally trying to cross a four lane highway, the Anchorage Daily News. Kudos for finally starting to tell this story in a larger historical context, but it is still very inadequate, because it misses the essential truth:

Conoco-Phillips, BP, Exxon Mobil.

Think long, spendy, half-drunk nights at the swankyish Petroleum Club in Anchorage. It simply isn't credible that Bill Allen's criminality was done without the knowledge and consent of big oil. VECO - Bill Allen and his goons- lobbied for big oil, on their behalf. The oil industry is morally and probably legally culpable for the situation Alaskans fell for.

Every Alaska politician who wined and dined- and personally profited - from their business dealings with the oil companies or their representatives now face the moral burden of demonstrating that they were not criminally influenced in their policy decisions by out and out bribery, corruption and racketeering. This includes several former governors and any number of state legislators of both parties.

But focusing on individual criminal behavior, even among U.S. Senators, is missing the point. In some ways, the AP story gets to the meat of it:

More than 70 percent of VECO's business worldwide comes from fossil fuel production and the company has logged more than $1 billion in sales. Its assets on the North Slope total more than $200 million and include an equipment fleet, maintenance facilities, a hotel, warehouses, fabrication facilities and a concrete plant.

"Needless to say," Allen wrote in the newsletter, "the best outcome for VECO and our employees would be for Republicans to control the White House, the U.S. Capitol and the Alaska State Legislature."

He and other VECO officials were known for their campaign fundraisers at the swank Petroleum Club in Anchorage. And they have given hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations to Stevens, Young and a host of state lawmakers.

"They were a very important source of money to some of the more pro-oil company candidates," said Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage. "Without VECO's involvement in state politics, we'll have a much more level playing field."

Rick Smith, former company vice president, has also pleaded guilty to bribery charges. Court documents say Smith and Allen would meet politicians in Juneau's Baranof Hotel to discuss the exchange of bribes for votes on key oil and gas legislation.

Company executives, led by Allen, lobbied on behalf of oil producers on the North Slope, the largest of which are BP PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips. Oil is the cornerstone of Alaska's economy. It funds about 80 percent of the state's annual budget.

"We discovered that there really wasn't anybody — not even the oil companies — defending themselves on the political front," VECO President Pete Leathard told the Anchorage Daily News in 2005. "So we took on the task."

Right. Oil Companies weren't standing up for themselves enough in Alaska.

It's what I've always said: if only Exxon Mobile was more assertive, they could get out more, even go on dates.

The essence of the story is evident in most of the reporting, but underneath the surface: Big Oil directly and indirectly bribed Alaska's politicians at all levels for favorable legislation involving billions and billlions of dollars, for years, to the point that virtually the entire state governmental system is suspect. To get out of the hole of national disgrace Alaska has dug itself, what we all need to know is the complete story of oil corruption of Alaska politics in the last ten years.

At the moment, Big Oil itself is - interestingly - avoiding serious criminal scrutiny while its soliders at VECO and yipping housepets like the Stevens' clan are going up the river. It will take a dogged historical perspective to dig this out. Right now, a dozen or so individuals are being investigated. It's reasonable to ask why executives at Conoco-Phillips, BP, and Exxon Mobil aren't being run through the wringer.

The infinitely more honorable Vic Fisher, one of the last living writers of the Alaska Constitution, put it like this in another AP story this week:

"Greed is rampant," Fischer said. "The character of the politicians has changed a lot. I'm very disgusted."

And that for me gets to the heartbreak of it. Alaska in the 1950's, when the classically liberal constitutional was written, seems to have been a crucible of youth, energy, optimism and individuality, with all the best, and also most of the worst, of the American character. But power tends to corrupt. And oil corrupts absolutely.


Blogger Undersecretary to the Deputy Commissariat said...

Bravo. I wondered if you'd pick up on that pithy summary.

Did you notice Beth Bragg's column on conflicts of interest last week? It's the best I've yet read from her.

August 5, 2007 at 11:55 PM  

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