A 17-month-old ethics complaint filed by State Rep. Kevin McCabe (R-Big Lake) against political rival Rep. David Eastman (R-Wasilla) and former Rep. Christopher Kurka was promptly dismissed by the Alaska Legislature’s Ethics Committee on Nov. 29.
The committee held a nearly two-hour meeting in Juneau to determine the legitimacy of the complaint.
Normally a confidential matter to protect the accused, Eastman and Kurka waived confidentiality in order to let the public to see the details of the complaint, minus the name of the complainant, who wished to remain anonymous to the public.
While the Ethics Committee’s documents blacked out McCabe’s name, the Watchman obtained an unredacted copy of the complaint that clearly shows McCabe was the complainant.
McCabe’s complaint asserts that Alaska Right to Life Director Pat Martin may have improperly used state resources during a visit to the State Capitol on 4/14/22 and 4/15/22 – with the “stated intent to distribute signed petitions to the legislature.” McCabe also alleged that Martin “used the offices of two different legislators as his ‘base of operations,’” spending “more than half a day” in Kurka’s office, and “almost a full day in Representative Eastman’s office.” Additionally, the complaint alleges that Martin spent at least part of a day “visiting other offices to lobby legislators and intimidate staffers.”
The assertion of intimidation failed to include any concrete details or specific instances, but does state that “no other lobbyist would be allowed to do this and certainly no activist such as Martin.”
The complaint also states that “it is unknown if [Martin] was allowed to use computers or telephones” while visiting the offices of Eastman and Kurka, and concludes by suggesting that letting Martin use state offices “as his base of operating in the Capitol building is a misuse of State resources.”
Martin kicked off the Nov. 29 public testimony portion of the meeting by immediately accusing McCabe as being the author of the complaint and explaining that McCabe has a history of publicly criticizing his work as Director of Alaska Right to Life and his role with Alaska Gun Rights – both organization which have very publicly and repeatedly decried McCabe for certain stances he has taken on abortion policy and gun rights.
Following Martin’s comments, the Ethics Committee paused public comment to remind everyone that the name of the complainant was still confidential because he had not waived his anonymity. That didn’t stop testifiers from repeatedly calling out McCabe for launching a “frivolous witch hunt” aimed at two fellow Republican lawmakers who frequently do not see eye to eye with him.
When contacted via phone and asked whether he was the complainant, McCabe said he couldn’t comment “one way or another.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to,” he said on Nov. 29. “It’s that I can’t. It would be a violation of ethics for me to do so. That’s very clear in our ethics manuals.”
When informed that he could waive his confidentiality, if he was the complainant, McCabe responded: “If it was me, I might have, yeah, but I don’t know much about that.”
During the public hearing, Martin criticized McCabe for attempting to punish Eastman and Kurka because of circumstances surrounding his visit to the State Capitol, which he said is a fundamental right of all citizens.
The fact that a citizen would travel to Juneau to petition representatives regarding certain issues “is not uncommon,” Martin emphasized to the committee. “This is how interest groups work and this is part of the political process.”
He also decried the actual contents of McCabe’s complaint, saying he employed conjecture and hearsay while offering no specific allegations of wrongdoing (see a full copy of the complaint here).
Martin added that McCabe wasn’t even in the building that day.
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Furthermore, Martin said he only had one day, not two, to accomplish his goal of meeting with legislators and providing them with signed petitions from pro-life constituents.
After Martin’s opening testimony, another 16 people testified in support of Eastman and Kurka, asking the Ethics Committee to dismiss the vaguely worded complaint, which many characterized as “weaponizing” the committee for political gain.
Mark Chryson, past chairman of the Alaska Independence Party, said the entire hearing was a waste of time, and part of a concerted effort to publicly malign legislators without cause. Like other testifiers, he said the person who filed the complaint should be investigated and sanctioned accordingly.
Several other testifiers said they rely on people like Martin to bring their concerns to legislators in Juneau, a city which is only accessible by plane or boat. Suggesting that Martin’s activities were somehow inappropriate is an affront to all citizens who wish to communicate with elected representatives, they argued.
“It’s completely unjustified,” said Ninilchik resident Waynette Colman. “I believe we have every right to approach our representatives.”
After a brief executive session, the Ethics Committee simply dismissed the case. While the committee did not indicate it was going to take further actions, according to Alaska Statute, a person “commits the crime of false accusation if the person knowingly or intentionally initiates a false complaint with the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics.” This is a Class A misdemeanor crime.
The thrust of the complaint is complaining about protected constitutional activity.
Alaska attorney and former U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller was on the conference call for the meeting, representing both Eastman and Kurka.
He said the complaint was entirely unsubstantiated and failed to identify “any direct action” that is a violation of law or ethics.
Miller noted that state law provides specific carve outs for the very type of activities Martin engaged in while in the Capitol. In particular, legislators are not prohibited from using their offices for “non-legislative purposes if the use does not interfere with the performance of public duties and if there is no cost to the state for the use of the space and equipment, other than utility costs and minimal wear and tear, or the legislator promptly reimburses the state for the cost.”
Miller said the complaint – if validated – could serve to undermine citizens’ willingness to petition their government without fear of overstepping ill-defined parameters on time and access to their representatives.
Kurka, who left the Legislature in 2022 to run for governor, told the committee that he was “shocked” by the complaint, and said it undermined his duty to engage constituents. He added that Martin was only in his office for two hours and said the idea that he had to place constituents on some sort of time limit was “ludicrous.”
“The thrust of the complaint is complaining about protected constitutional activity,” he said. “What am I supposed to do? Kick him out to the curb and have our meeting on the legislative steps?”
Eastman echoed these concerns, noting that he was tied up with official meetings for five hours the day Martin showed up at the Capitol, but that Martin – like all constituents – has a guaranteed right to petition his government.
“These are not small things,” he said. “They have an impact.”
The final result of the complaint was an almost immediate dismissal after less than ten minutes of deliberation.