FBI Fishes for Pork in Stevens Investigation


The ongoing federal investigation of Sen. Ted Stevens is exploring the Alaska lawmakers pattern, thoroughly documented by Chuck Neubauer, Judy Pasternak and Richard T. Cooper of the Los Angeles Times, of earmarking taxpayer dollars to organizations (among them Alaskan seafood producers) that hired Stevens’ son, Ben, as a consultant. Matt Apuzzo of the Associated Press has the latest developments:

WASHINGTON – Federal authorities investigating Sen. Ted Stevens are trolling the Alaska fishing industry for evidence of whether the powerful Republican pushed seafood legislation that benefited his lobbyist son…

Industry officials and attorneys involved in the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity because authorities have told them not to discuss the probe, said investigators are asking about federal legislation that directly or indirectly aided the senator’s son, Ben, who is a state lobbyist and politician.

The legislation was passed as earmarks, brief spending items that lawmakers tack onto bills to steer federal money to pet projects. Ted Stevens, an unapologetic user of earmarks, is the biggest champion for Alaska’s $2 billion-a-year seafood industry.

Details of the earmarks under investigation–including what Ben Stevens did (or didn’t do) for his fees–are below the fold; it’s worth noting that because Stevens fils was a state lawmaker, most of these payments were made public on his personal financial disclosure. A bunch of Ben Stevens’ forms are available from the Center for Public Integrity, here–just scroll down toward the bottom of the page.

By the way, hat tip to Cap’n Ed, who makes some good points, not least of which:

Regardless of whether the FBI can prove corruption, these cases demonstrate clearly that pork corrodes the process of government. When our elected representatives place themselves in positions to have themselves or their families directly benefit from their legislative activities, it becomes a gross conflict of interest.

But I think I have the better headline…

In any case, here’s the rundown from Matt Apuzzo of AP…

_A $100 million federal loan program approved in 2000 to buy out Alaska crab boats, trim the size of the fleet and boost prices. The Bering Sea Crab Effort Reduction Fund, an industry group that supported the buyout program, hired Ben Stevens’ company, Advance North, as a consultant.

_A $30 million earmark Ted Stevens used to create the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, which provided federal money to promote Alaska seafood. Ben Stevens was the board’s first chairman and approved grants to companies including those paying him consulting fees, state financial disclosure reports show.

_A $50 million loan program, like the crab buyback, seeking to trim the Alaska salmon fleet in 2004. The Southeast Alaska Seiners Association, a salmon fishing organization, hired Advance North to help push the deal. Ben Stevens is not a federal lobbyist and the salmon fishing group said his business partner, Trevor McCabe, did the lobbying.

But Victor Smith, a fisherman and critic of Ben Stevens, gave the FBI a taped phone conversation that he said proves otherwise. In the 2005 conversation, Smith called the seiners group’s board member Bryan Benkman to discuss why funding was stuck in the federal bureaucracy even after the earmark passed.

Both men expressed disappointment in Ben Stevens and Smith asked why he was hired. Benkman replied that the younger Stevens recalled his success getting the crab buyback passed and pitched himself as a conduit to his father.

“He said, ‘Hey, see I’ve got a program. You know, I’ve got this one to my credit. Hire me, you know, I’ll get Dad to fund you guys, too,” Benkman said.

_A 2003 earmark that gave exclusive pollock fishing rights to Alaska natives in the far-flung Aleutian community of Adak. That meant millions of dollars for Adak Fisheries to manage the catch of pollock, the lucrative whitefish commonly used in fishsticks and fish sandwiches.

The company paid Ben Stevens $295,000 between 2000 and 2004, according to state financial disclosure reports. When the earmark went through, Ben Stevens also secretly held an option to buy into Adak Fisheries.