Commentary

What did the governor buy?

Two months before it was first publicly revealed that Washington, D.C. lobbyist Jack Ferguson, a former aide to Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, had been hired by Gov. Bill Walker to lobby Alaskans on state fiscal policy, state records show Ferguson had already pocketed $40,000 in state funds for what?

You decide.

In August, Ferguson billed the state for $20,000 for “consulting,” according to newly obtained state billings. That’s it. “Consulting.” A notation at the bottom of the bill indicates it was approved for payment  Sept. 1.

August Services Ferguson Invoice(1)

Is there an Alaskan working person — plumber, house keeper, carpenter, seamstress, handyman — who wouldn’t kill for a deal like this? Personally, I’d be happy to send anyone who is interested a $20,000 bill for March “writing.”

Certainly, I will write something in March. Maybe it will just be a grocery list. But I will write something. You have my word; as the governor obviously had Ferguson’s word. Either that, or Walker just wanted to throw away $50,000 in state money because as governor he can.

In September, Ferguson billed the state another $20,000 for “consulting.” That’s it. Just “consulting.” State records do not indicate when he was paid.

2015 September Services Ferguson Invoice-1

And finally in October, Ferguson billed the state’s $10,000 for, yes, “consulting.” The last $10,000 burned up the maximum $50,000 Walker had agreed to pay Ferguson for generally hanging out with the governor, his friends and cronies, legislators, the Alaska Congressional delegation, and business, banking and academic leaders.

The last bill from Ferguson, dated Nov. 2, did come accompanied by this statement:

“Please find the enclosed billing for October, 2015 in accordance with our agreement wherein the State of Alaska has retained JFA for purposes of facilitating the evaluation of proposals to optimize earnings from the State’s reserves.

“Professional services include the arrangement of and the participation in meetings iwth financial advisors, the Governor and his designees, the Alaska Congressional Delegation, the Alaska Legislature, and citizens of the business and academic community. Services will also also include briefings, developing a a communication plan, and public outreach.”

The explanation is apparently meant to cover the two previous bills which provide no hint of exactly what services Ferguson might have provided under that broad umbrella of “consulting.”

2015 October Services Ferguson Invoice-2

The Ferguson bills make it appear embattled fellow consultant Art Hackney was played for a fool when he signed a contract wherein he agreed to bill the governor by the hour and provide at least some detail on the people with whom he was meeting.

Hackney eventually submitted detailed bills for $32,550 of the $50,000 in play and found himself accused of billing for “phantom meetings” (be aware this link contains erroneous information about a meeting with the governor the Anchorage Dispatch News eventually found to have happened but never corrected in this story so the “phantom news” lives on in the internet), and under attack for trying “to obstruct the signature drive for a public vote on the repeal of ” an oil tax.

Translation? Hackney tried to discourage people from signing petitions for a vote to repeal an oil tax. Apparently, it’s only OK to encourage people to sign petitions.

And to think Hackney could have avoided all of this if he’d simply done a Ferguson and avoided telling anyone anything. The business of government is, after all, best done in secret.

But this really isn’t the most interesting information coming out of the state documents now providing a tiny hint of what Walker and Hackney did for the governor. The most interesting thing is this:

Ferguson finished working for the state of Alaska on Oct. 12. But Hackney’s billings reflect that he met with Ferguson almost two dozen times after that, the last on Nov. 29. Hackney reported meeting with Ferguson almost every day in the last week of October as budget discussions within the governor’s office intensified.

Hackney said in an interview there was general agreement on using permanent fund earnings to help plug a $3.5 billion budget gap, but disagreements between those who wanted to cut the state budget and those who wanted to find news taxes to maintain government at existing levels. The latter eventually won. Hackney was on the losing side.

His billings reflect he was meeting regularly with Ferguson to discuss these or other issues. On Nov. 7, Hackney reported meeting to “compare notes with Ferguson.” On Nov. 18, Hackney “sent (economist Scott) Goldsmith file to Jack.” On Nov. 29, there was a meeting with “Jack F. in D.C.”

If Ferguson’s contract with the state expired on Oct. 12, who was Ferguson working for when Hackney met with him again and again after that date? Is there a “phantom contract” with the state floating around somewhere? Is it possible Ferguson continued meeting with Hackney because he was working for someone other than the governor interested in state fiscal policy?

There are at the moment no end of players interested in the subject. Both the communications company GCI and the Rasmusson Foundation, which contributes funds to a long list of charitable organizations, are actively involved in trying to direct public opinion on budget issues.

And Ferguson is regularly seen around Anchorage with Alaska Dispatch News publisher Alice Rogoff-Rubenstein. The two have a relationship that goes back more than a decade. Writing in “Washington Life” magazine in 2005 Rogoff-Rubenstein, the wife of billionaire David Rubenstein co-founder of the Carlyle Group, praised Ferguson for helping create “an organization that works simultaneously in the two vastly different worlds of Alaska and the East Coast.”

The organization was the Alaska Native Arts Foundation begun in 2002. A non-profit corporation, it was to have been a model for Alaska Native art as a viable business. Ferguson helped ANAF get its first public funding. The foundation went on to lose millions of dollars in public money before closing its doors this year after the state terminated future funding.

Rogoff-Rubenstein, who prefers to be known by her maiden name in Alaska, stepped down as the ANAF president in 2012. Not long after, she began to take a more active role in another of her enterprises, Alaska Dispatch.com . In 2014, Rogoff bought the Anchorage Daily News from The McClatchy Company for more than $33 million and merged it with Alaska Dispatch to form the Alaska Dispatch News.  The new entity maintained the old, online acronym ADN and its online presence as adn.com.

ADN is reported to have lost $6 million in its first full year of operation in 2015. Rogoff, meanwhile, has been active, along with other business leaders and Ferguson, in trying to advise Walker on state budget policy.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s