527 Uses Stevens’ Name
Group Aims to Elect Women
The Ted Stevens Excellence in Public Service Inc. aims to raise about $50,000 a year to create a training ground for female candidates and campaign workers.
The group’s founder said that there is no plan to do issue advocacy or make any other donations to directly benefit female candidates in Alaska, although Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), locked in a tight re-election battle, has agreed to appear at one of the seminars later this year to talk about her experiences.
While some ethics lawyers questioned whether it was politically advisable for Stevens to lend his name to the group, several experts called the move the latest example of the fine line that Members of Congress and their financial supporters can walk without appearing to violate the new prohibitions against raising unlimited soft-money contributions.
In the Senator’s case, board members of Ted Stevens Excellence in Public Service can raise as much money as they want from corporations or unions or unlimited donations from individuals — all of which would be illegal for Stevens to do himself — as long as the Appropriations chairman is not involved in the project.
So far, his involvement appears limited to some conversations with the group’s board. “He has just agreed that we can use his name,” said Gloria Shriver, the founder of the group and wife of Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich. “He did say that we could use [his name] and wished us the very best.”
Shriver, in an interview Monday, left open the option that Stevens might help with some fundraising. “At this point, no, but I’m sure he might in the future,” she said.
Campaign and ethics lawyers, however, said that would be the point at which Stevens would cross the line and violate portions of new fundraising laws.
“Members are allowed to allow some third party to use their name … as long as the Member himself or herself doesn’t benefit from it,” said Bill Canfield, a campaign and ethics lawyer at Williams & Jensen.
Canfield serves on the board of the Ted Stevens Foundation, which has no connection to the new female political boot camp, which files under Section 527 of the tax code. The foundation is a charity that filed as a 501(c)(3), debuting with a $2 million-plus fundraising dinner March 10.
While the two organizations are separate and serve different purposes, Canfield said the rules governing Stevens’ involvement were similar: “No relationship to them.”
The foundation’s board is made up of a half- dozen or so former staffers and longtime supporters in Alaska, some of whom are registered lobbyists, and the fundraising committee for the March 10 dinner was made up of 14 former staffers turned lobbyists.
The 527 group has a board of 15 politically active Republican women in Alaska, according to Shriver, none of whom are related to or employed by Stevens.
Even with his name on both groups, Stevens has no direct role, according to Canfield and Shriver. Therefore, the two groups can raise money from a host of sources that might otherwise be prohibited if Stevens were considered directly involved in the groups.
Stevens aides in D.C. declined to comment and referred questions to his top political operative, Timothy McKeever, a lobbyist in Alaska, who was not available for comment.
Some campaign lawyers privately questioned the decision-making in allowing his name to be included the groups’ names. “Putting his name in the title is questionable because it implies to potential givers that he is somehow involved,” one ethics lawyer said, requesting anonymity.
Shriver said she and her board had begun to raise money for their political training camp, which is modeled after the Richard G. Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series, an Indiana-based training camp for Republican women named after the veteran Indiana Senator.
Started in the late 1980s, corporations and other supporters have paid for Lugar’s former staffers and fundraisers to run a boot camp for women politicians, complete with seminars on interviewing skills, fundraising, the history of the Republican Party and ethics in government.
Current sponsors of the Lugar Series include some of Indiana’s largest businesses, including Eli Lilly and Co.
The Lugar Series, however, is operated inside the Indiana Republican Party offices, unlike Stevens Excellence in Public Service, a distinct organization with its own mailing address and which files its own fundraising and expenditure reports with the IRS.
With $250,000 in seed money from the Republican National Committee, at least 16 other state Republican organizations have started female political training camps. The Stevens’ group is the only named after a federal lawmaker.
Shriver said she expects her political students to go through 80 hours of classes that will be mostly held in the state capital, Juneau, although there will be one trip a year to Washington.
Despite her connections to the Murkowski family, Shriver said the Stevens group is designed strictly to train candidates, not build support for Sen. Murkowski or her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski (R), who appointed his daughter Lisa to his Senate seat after winning the gubernatorial race in November 2002.
“We will not be endorsing candidates. We will not be doing issue advocacy,” she said. “We are training only.”
Shriver’s husband, Randy Ruedrich, was appointed to the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission by Gov. Murkowski but had to resign under pressure because of the potential conflict of raising money as GOP chairman from the same companies he was regulating.
In addition to Sen. Murkowski, Shriver said she was still hoping to line up an appearance by Stevens himself before the training camp of GOP women. “I’m hoping that he will, but I haven’t cleared that,” she said.
Amy Keller contributed to this report.