By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
But one Stevens law firm wasn't enough for Palin. She hired the firm that included Stevens's brother-in-law, Bill Bittner, as counsel to the city, ultimately steering hundreds of thousands in payments to it, much of it associated with a costly lawsuit sparked by a Palin development decision. Bittner, who has engineered real-estate investments for Stevens, also rented an apartment to the state for Murkowski's use whenever he visited Anchorage. A year after Palin stepped down as mayor, she was one of three incorporators of a nonprofit called the Ted Stevens Excellence in Public Service Committee that he helped establish to support Republican women.
It's unclear why Bill Allen, the VECO president who has pled guilty to bribery charges and is expected to testify against Stevens, became such a large Palin donor in 2002. His contributions and bribes were usually connected to his business interests, and he had none in Wasilla. News accounts in Alaska indicate that in 2001, Palin drove from Wasilla to Allen's home in faraway Cook Inlet. Allen, other VECO executives, and their wives then gave Palin's campaign committee $5,000, contributing $500 apiece over a two-day period in late December.
No one else in Palin's underfinanced bid for lieutenant governor came close to VECO. Virtually the same group of executives repeated the pattern in 2003—giving $1,600 to Charlie Fannon's campaign committee, chaired by Palin. No one seemed to mind that the Alaska Public Offices Commission had collected the largest fine in its history ($28,000) from VECO who were paying employees to make illegal campaign contributions. In the current VECO scandals, which have already led to the convictions of several state legislators, it's clear that VECO continued the practice of reimbursing the campaign donations of its executives. Palin's lieutenant governor, Sean Parnell, who recently did a Fox News Sunday appearance on her behalf, collected $16,000 in VECO contributions as a state legislator.
JOHN McCAIN AND Palin share at least one common bond beyond their self-proclaimed independence: They're both very comfortable with lobbyists. Sean Parnell—who is running Alaska's government while Palin travels and is so trusted that he was one of only three Alaskans named to the national campaign's truth squad for Palin—was a lobbyist in the Anchorage office of the legendary Washington firm, Patton Boggs, before he was elected with Palin. Ironically, one of the charges in the eventual ethics complaint against Ruedrich was that he'd sent numerous e-mails to Evergreen's lobbyist, Kyle Parker, a Patton Boggs partner. Ruedrich admitted that he had even leaked a confidential commission memo on the methane controversy to Parker. Ruedrich was reporting at the time to Kevin Jardell, an assistant commissioner of administration who oversaw the commission. Jardell had lived for months in Ruedrich's home while he worked with Parker representing the state GOP in a reapportionment case, hired by Patton Boggs, which was the party's outside counsel.
This intertwining of interests was exposed when all the details of the Ruedrich scandal hit the headlines in 2004. Parnell was then Murkowski's deputy director of Oil & Gas. Undeterred by Patton's reputation, Parnell left his state job in 2005 to join the firm, where he soon had his own oil clients. Before joining the Murkowski administration, he had been the in-house lobbyist for ConocoPhillips. Parnell's bio makes him an odd choice to lead a truth squad—having moved from the state senate to an oil company, then back to a state oil job, and finally, becoming an outside lobbyist for oil interests while running for lieutenant governor.
Even closer to Palin than Parnell is the Alaskan lobbyist whose firm topped the charts in earnings: Wendy Chamberlain. Palin lists Chamberlain on her personal-disclosure forms because Chamberlain took Palin's daughter Willow and her own daughter on a 2007 summer trip to a basketball camp in Mexico. Palin insisted on the form that she had reimbursed Chamberlain—the legislature had passed a bill that barred executives from taking gifts from lobbyists. A Washington Post story last week revealed that Chamberlain's clients have deluged Palin with gifts, including three, worth $2,650, from the chief executive of a mining company (Parnell used to represent the same firm, Calista). Todd Palin took two trips from other Chamberlain clients, though the lobbyist claims she had no idea her clients were so generous with her friend.
In fact, Chamberlain tried to minimize her relationship with Palin in a Voice interview ("I know her about the same as any other lobbyist"), though news clips describe Palin and Chamberlain together working the sidewalks for Frank Murkowski in the 2002 campaign. Chamberlain was then married to Eldon Mulder, a state legislator who now runs his own lobbying firm. "We first met Governor Palin many years ago," Mulder says, "when our daughters were in basketball camp together. About six to eight years ago."
Chamberlain acknowledged that back then, one of her firm's clients was VECO. Mulder collected $9,000 in VECO contributions from 1999 to 2001, and, according to press reports, he used his position as chair of the House Finance committee to push for a tax-break bill introduced at VECO's request by another legislator eventually convicted of taking payoffs from VECO. Mulder was accused by a third House member—also a Republican—of threatening to cut off state funds if he got in the way of the VECO bill. Chamberlain became a lobbyist two years after her husband was first elected to the House in 1992 and ran into problems three times with the ethics committee—mostly for using state offices and funds for her lobbying business. Once, she was sanctioned for "poor judgment" when her husband weakened a cruise-ship-pollution bill in the interests of a Chamberlain client. Mulder and Chamberlain's lobbying partner, former House Speaker Joe Hayes, contributed $1,500 to Palin in 2006.