Complaint on Pro-Murkowski Columns Filed

Posted October 18, 2004 at 6:27pm

An elderly Anchorage resident, with the help of the Alaska Democratic Party, has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission charging that a prominent Anchorage businessman and publisher is illegally contributing to the election campaign of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

In the complaint, Jean Paal, a 54-year resident of Anchorage, accuses the businessman, Bill Allen, and his company of making illegal corporate contributions to Murkowski’s campaign by publishing pro-Murkowski editorials in the Voice of the Times, an opinion page that appears daily in the Anchorage Daily News.

The complaint is unlikely to be considered by the election agency until well after the election.

Allen is chairman of Veco Corp., an Anchorage-based energy services company, and is also publisher of the conservative Voice of the Times.

Allen was publisher of the now-defunct Anchorage Times, a daily newspaper that folded and was absorbed by the larger Daily News in 1992. The Daily News continues to publish the separate editorial page of the defunct paper — in addition to its own — through a unique arrangement with Allen as a way to preserve the Times’ conservative editorial voice, a Daily News spokesman has explained.

Allen has personally contributed $3,000 to Murkowski’s campaign this cycle, according to the nonpartisan PoliticalMoneyLine. He has also donated $1,000 to her political action committee, Denali PAC. And he has contributed to the leadership PACs of both Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), which in turn have each donated $10,000 to Murkowski’s election campaign.

Furthermore, Allen hosted a fundraiser at his home for Murkowski in May, and Veco employees collectively are the second-largest donor to Murkowski’s campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a political watchdog group.

Some of Murkowski’s opponents have argued that each editorial in the Voice of the Times promoting her candidacy, of which there have been many, should be considered a political contribution.

“These contributions are either a corporate contribution barred by [law] or an independent expenditure required to be reported by” law, the complaint filed late last month with the FEC reads. In an interview, Paal said she believes the columns are “like free advertising.”

An attorney for the Voice of the Times said that the state election division dismissed a similar suit in 2000. The state agency’s staff determined that the Voice of the Times is a press entity exempt from corporate contribution laws and recommended that the complaint be dropped. That is a central argument in the FEC complaint. The complaint seeks to prevent Allen from invoking First Amendment protection by arguing that the Voice of the Times is not a news organization and therefore should not enjoy traditional First Amendment protection.

Usually news stories and commentaries cannot be considered political expenditures, but the complaint notes that the Voice of the Times is not a press entity and therefore is not entitled to such an exemption.

“The complaint is nonsense and we’re filing an appropriate answer with the FEC,” Jack Miller, Allen’s attorney said.

The Murkowski campaign declined to comment.

A spokesman for the Federal Election Commission said earlier this year that while the situation with the Voice of Alaska is unusual, someone would have to prove cooperation between Allen and the Murkowski campaign before the agency could determine that there had been a violation of the law.