Officials amend disclosures in response to APOC complaints

In the latest round of the Cook Inlet fish wars, the Alaska Public Offices Commission received about 200 complaints primarily from commercial fishermen against a sportfishing advocacy group.

Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage residents with ties to Cook Inlet commercial fisheries — including United Cook Inlet Drift Association Executive Director Roland Maw — submitted the complaints to the commission Aug. 25 regarding the Kenai River Sportfishing Association’s Kenai River Classic and other outreach and lobbying of public officials regarding fisheries management.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission will hear three of those complaints, but rejected the other 198 on Aug. 27. The volume of complaints was about 10 times the amount APOC typically receives over an entire year; in 2013 the commission received 12 complaints according to its biennial report.

The accepted complaints address the Kenai River Classic participation of Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell, Department of Natural Resources Deputy Commissioner Ed Fogels and the daughter of Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell.

Campbell and Fogels said Aug. 28 that they amended their APOC filings to include the event. Treadwell said that his daughter did not participate in the event.

For APOC to accept a complaint for consideration, it must meet technical standards, and must be something that, if the allegation is true, would be a violation, according to APOC Executive Director Paul Dauphinais. The technical component requires that the complaint is correctly filled out, signed, notarized, and accompanied by proof that the appropriate parties were served.

The rejected complaints did not meet the standard of constituting a violation if true, although some of the forms also were not filled out correctly.

More than half of the complaints were filed against KRSA directly, including dozens for the Kenai River Classic and several addressing how the organization has filled out required gift disclosure forms in the past.

KRSA successfully lobbied the legislature in 2013 to reject Vince Webster’s re-nomination to the Board of Fisheries, and has succeeded at pushing management changes through the board process, including introducing the paired restrictions for the commercial and sport fisheries instituted in February of this year. KRSA founder Bob Penney is also backing a proposed ballot initiative that would ban setnets from Cook Inlet.

All of the complaints against KRSA were rejected.

KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease said the organization spends a significant amount of time on APOC reporting and compliance, and the fact that the commission rejected the complaints validated that work.

“I think the fact that they were rejected shows that we do a good job of complying with the APOC reports,” Gease said.

The KRSA complaints revolved around how the organization reported expenditures for lobbying in Juneau and Anchorage, whether it declared gifts to public officials who participated in the Kenai River Classic and Kenai River Women’s Classic, whether it declared other gifts, such as free fishing trips, and how it reported various aspects of the expenses associated with the annual fishing events.

Each was rejected because the complaint did not constitute an actual violation under current state statute, in part because a complex mixture of regulations is at play, with different activities, individuals and entities governed by different rules.

A number of complaints targeted the association’s expenses for its lobbyists, and how they prorated the costs of hotel rooms and travel; the commission wrote that prorating is allowed.

“Regardless of how low a given amount may seem that is what was reported as reimbursed by the Employer to the representational lobbyist,” commission staff wrote.

The commission will hear three of the complaints about public officials, likely within 90 days of Aug. 27, Dauphinais said.

The Kenai River Classic is an annual invitational fishing event held to raise money for the Kenai River Sportfishing Association’s work in habitat restoration, and fisheries education, management and research. According to KRSA’s website, the event has raised more than $14 million during the past 20 years.

Participation in the classic cost $4,000 in 2014, and the complaints assert that the value ranges from $4,000 to $5,000. The fee is typically waived for public officials, including those against whom the complaints were made.

Campbell said Aug. 28 that she had initially reported her participation to her ethics supervisor as required by the state’s Ethics Act. More recently, she has amended her 2011 filing to APOC to include the classic, she wrote in an email.

Fogels said Aug. 28 that he is working on his response to APOC, and has filed an amended APOC disclosure reflecting his participation. Like Campbell, he said he had reported his attendance to his ethics supervisor, and thought that was adequate.

He also noted that he thought the event was a valuable experience, and he thought it was in everyone’s best interests for officials to continue attending and seeing the Kenai River — parts of which are a park managed by the Department of Natural Resource’s state parks arm.

Treadwell said that the complaint was not accurate, and his daughter and friends paid a guide service to take them out fishing after the 2013 classic, but did not participate in the actual event.

“Natalie was not there, she was not with us on the boats fishing,” Treadwell said.

The complaint was based on information provided by KRSA that said Treadwell’s daughter participated. Treadwell noted that Natalie did eat one meal — a taco — when her visit to the area overlapped with the classic, but that he had been told the value of that was not high enough to include on his disclosure form.

The complaints were filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, or APOC, Aug. 25, and published on the commission’s website Aug. 27.

According to Dauphinais, the commission will be ready for hearings on each of the complaints in about 45 days, and generally tries to hear each issue within 90 days of accepting the complaint. That timeline can vary based on the commission’s meeting schedule and because individuals have the opportunity to ask for extensions, he said.

For now, each of the officials must respond to APOC by Sept. 11.

APOC staff also has 30 days from Aug. 27 to complete its investigation and issue a staff report. Once the report is prepared, each official has 15 days to respond.

Then the commission will have a hearing on each complaint.

The individuals who submitted the rejected complaints can also appeal the staff decisions in which case the commission would consider whether or not there was a possible violation.

The accepted complaints also note that gifts were given to event attendees, in addition to the comped participation fee.

For 2011, the year Campbell attended, KRSA estimated the value of the gifts given to each of the officials in 2011 at $5, elaborating that it was unclear if every attendee received them. The list of gifts included a gear bag, turtle neck, baseball cap and gloves, each with KRSA’s name or logo on them, which the organization reported devalues the items.

For 2013, the year Fogels attended, KRSA’s financial disclosure estimated the value of the gifts it provided at $6. Those included a gear bag, quarter-zip shirt, baseball cap, softshell jacket and gloves, with a reduction of value because they had KRSA’s name or logo on each of them.

The attendee list for the 2011 and 2013 Kenai River Classics included several legislators, fisheries managers and other public officials.

KRSA has advocated for fisheries management in Juneau, as well as at the Board of Fisheries Upper Cook Inlet meeting in 2014 and other past board meetings.

The other complaints were targeted at legislators and fisheries managers who did not file financial disclosures with APOC regarding their participation in the event.

The commission wrote in its explanations of the rejections that legislators must only report their participation to the legislative ethics division, which they did.

Among the rejections were seven complaints against ADFG Assistant Commissioner Kelly Hepler for participation in the Kenai River Classic and related gifts for several years. Ultimately, the commission determined that he was not required to file a disclosure because his official job title is “special projects coordinator,” and is not included in the statute that dictates who must file disclosures.

11/22/2016 - 5:05pm