A Petty Ending to Stevens’ Career

Friday, November 21, 2008 at 6:01 am
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) (WDCpix)

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) (WDCpix)

In the end, failing to properly fill out a form ended the career of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), one of the most powerful senators in U.S. history — famous, or maybe infamous, for wide-ranging scandals involving money, family and power.

The usually gruff and even cantankerous Stevens, 85, gave a gracious farewell speech on the floor of the Senate Thursday morning, the day after he learned he had narrowly lost his seat to Democratic Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.

“I don’t have any rear-view mirror, I look only forward,” Stevens said during his speech. “And I still see the day when I can remove the cloud that currently surrounds me.”

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

Stevens was referring to his recent conviction on seven felony counts of failing to list gifts worth $250,000 from the Alaska oil services firm, Veco Corp., on his Senate disclosure forms. The gifts ranged from a high-tech massage chair, to home repairs and overseeing the renovation of his Girdwood, Alaska, home.

The seven counts, though, did not include underlying crimes of corruption or bribery. Stevens was not accused of illegally taking cash or presents. Nor did the prosecution ever allege that Stevens used his power to deliver favors to Veco. Instead, the conviction hinged solely on a technical requirement.

Many in Alaska see the situation as a small, petty end to the career of a man marred with far more serious scandals, which encompassed his family, friends, money and power. The largest, most flagrant scandals include funneling money to Alaska seafood companies through his son on the same companies’ payrolls; making hundreds of thousands of dollars in suspect land deals, and breaking federal lobbying laws to help shepherd Alaska into statehood in the 1950s.

Stevens’ conviction didn’t stop many Alaskans, nearly half of all voters, to support him at the polls just eight days after the jury’s decision. At campaign stops Stevens told voters that the charges were technical, even nit-picky.

It’s not surprising that such a message resonated with many Alaskans, according to a professor of history at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, Steven Haycox. The far-away trial in Washington seemed disconnected from Alaska life.

“They see these particular laws as essentially technical laws,” Haycox said. “This is not a guy who went out and sought $250,000 in gifts.”

Even the underlying accusation that Stevens accepted gifts looked petty to some who have followed Stevens’ worst moments over the last 40 years.

Sen. Ted Stevens' home in Girdwood, Alaska (Photo by: Laura McGann)

Sen. Ted Stevens' house in Girdwood, Alaska (Photo by: Laura McGann)

The house remodeling, which was the biggest gift Stevens neglected to disclose, did not create a remarkable home. This reporter originally drove right by when looking for it in Stevens’ small mountain town this September. Discovering it on a second pass, the overall size of the two-story home made it seem like a cozy chalet, not a Rep. Duke Cunningham-style mansion.

“It was the rinky-dink stuff,” said former Sen. Mike Gravel, who was Alaska’s junior senator under Stevens in the 1970s. “I don’t know of a better word or how to say it. It’s rinky-dink.”


One of the more flagrant Stevens scandals involved his son, Ben Stevens, who is now under federal investigation for his ties to Veco while serving as Alaska Senate president.

In 2003, Stevens allocated federal money to set up the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, which would later hand out about $29 million in federal grants to seafood companies to promote their industry. Stevens’ son was appointed by the state to head the body, with his father’s endorsement.

At the same time that the younger Stevens was handing out grant money, he was also getting money from some of the companies applying for the grants, which were paying him tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees. According to his state Senate disclosure forms, Stevens pocketed $250,000 in fees from the seafood companies.

Some of the grants dolled out have come under scrutiny, like the $500,000 given to Alaska Airlines to paint a Boeing 737 to look like a wild salmon. The nicknamed “Salmon-30-Salmon” was meant to promote the fishing industry, which the airline is a part of, since it hauls millions of pounds of fish out of the state every year.

Alaska Airlines "Salmon Thirty Salmon" plane (Alaska Airlines)

Alaska Airlines "Salmon Thirty Salmon" (Alaska Airlines Photo)

When news broke that a federal grand jury in Seattle subpoenaed several seafood companies that fish off the coast of Alaska, it looked like the scandal would catch up with at least one of the Stevens.

“This is the equivalent of Al Capone going to jail for tax evasion,” said Stephen Taufen, a former seafood industry accountant and manager turned whistleblower. “What they got Ted on was arm wrestling with pinky fingers. Will the real fight come out?”

Taufen is also a strong critic of Stevens’ fishing policy in state.


Stevens was not a wealthy man until he took part in a series of lucrative investments in the 1990s.

In 1998, he went in on a land deal with an Alaska real-estate developer, Bob Penney, who turned a $15,000 investment into $150,000 for Stevens by 2004. That year, Penney told the Anchorage Daily News that he brought Stevens in on the Utah deal out of “appreciation for all he’s done for Alaska and the country.”

Penney lives on the Kenai River in Alaska, where he hosted an annual fund-raising event for Stevens that brought heads of defense corporations and lobbyists together to fish, drink, smoke fine cigars and spend a few private minutes with Stevens on the water.

Stevens steered millions in earmarks to Penney’s sports fishermen group that seeks to keep the river stocked with salmon for their sport, much to the chagrin of environmentalists and biologists.


Even in Stevens’ early days in public service, he was involved in scandals that might have ended a lesser politician’s career.

In 1956, Stevens, was assigned to a team, called the legislative council, that would staff the Interior Dept.’s involvement in the law to grant Alaska statehood.

Stevens hung a sign on his office door at Interior that read “Alaska Headquarters.” The sign, and his enthusiasm for the territory, earned him the title “Mr. Alaska,” according to the book “Take My Land Take My Life,” a history of Alaska’s early statehood days.

Stevens’ spirited display of support for statehood soon turned into a concerted lobbying effort on tax-payer time and with government resources. He pushed to hire Marilyn Atwood, the daughter of the chair of a lobbying organization working on getting Alaska statehood rights.

Atwood and Stevens ran a lobbying shop directly out of Interior. Atwood paired members of Congress with Alaskans they shared common to gain support for the statehood movement.

“We were lobbying from the executive branch,” Stevens said 20 years later, in 1977, “and there’s been a statute against that for a long time.”

In his final speech on the floor, Stevens didn’t mention the specifics of any of his scandalous moments. He just hopes for vindication.

He also wished the rest of his delegation well and also for Begich — who now takes the baton.

“This is the last frontier,” Stevens said. “and I also pray for my successor’s success, as he joins in that effort.”

Categories & Tags: Politics| Slot 1/Top Stories|



Comment posted November 21, 2008 @ 7:32 am

Squalid along the Yukon.

Comment posted November 21, 2008 @ 8:31 am

No politician from this state should ever be given a position of prominence nationally, not Palin or Begich. It sounds too corrupt and the people who live there do not care.

Comment posted November 21, 2008 @ 8:36 am

I am sick of my state being called the Last Frontier. I don't like what they did to the previous one. Why is it that humans think they can do anything they want with the planet? Oh yeah, that dominion thing mandated in the bible.

Comment posted November 21, 2008 @ 8:39 am

Only some of the people here don't care. Please don't lump me in with the rest of them.

Comment posted November 21, 2008 @ 8:48 am

Rinky-Dink?? When they take down Mafia dons its usually for tax-evasion. Would Sen. Stevens consider that Rinky-Dink??

Comment posted November 21, 2008 @ 8:55 am


The number one problem in America is that we put too few politicians, their friends, and family in jail. It is time to clean house. YES, WE CAN!!!

Comment posted November 21, 2008 @ 9:59 am

Being a FOT (friend of Ted) certainly had major advantages in Alaska and certainly the convictions are just the tip of the iceberg. Bob Penny, Gilliam, Ray Peterson all got special treatment being a FOT. Regional native corporations certainly benefited from Ted and have supported him as a result. Not surprising is that the villages and native people turned against him and went for Begich overwhelmingly. Stevens, like Edwards, forgot he was a public person accountable to the voter not the special interests.

No More Corruption
Comment posted November 21, 2008 @ 10:45 am

I think Alaska is one of the most corrupt states in The US after Texas. It is controlled by oil
and their lobbyists. It is NOT the people who live there – it is once again the lobbyists
and their corrupt power – and oil lobbyists are some of the worst.
Sarah Palin chaired the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, before becoming governor –
not much is mentioned about that – are people afraid to bring this up???
And, remember both Bush and Cheney big whigs in the Oil Industry – Bush by default…
The oil lobbyist is very powerful and very dangerous. Stevens became part of this and lived his life
under their corrupt rules. Our country is trying to get out from under the oil companies rules – I hope it

Comment posted November 21, 2008 @ 10:59 am

It looks like Alaska is trying to compete with Louisana for having the most
corrupt politicans. I guess people in Alaska don't care as long as they get
a oil royalty check and billons of dollars in federal earmarks.

Comment posted November 21, 2008 @ 12:37 pm

Alaska is 'rinky-dink' [reference to Sarah's house parts unintentional] period!

clear lingo
Comment posted November 21, 2008 @ 2:08 pm

Good article, marred by weird english: “Stevens’ conviction didn’t stop many Alaskans, nearly half of all voters, to support him “. Between you and me (no, not “between you and I”), how 'bout “from supporting him”, or simply “supporting him”?

Comment posted November 21, 2008 @ 3:05 pm

It is time for Alaskans to reclaim their state. They are off to a good start, with the ethics complaints against Sarah Palin. Alaskans need to become that mindful of all of their politicians. Alaska can demonstrate to the other 49 states, how to take back their governments.

Comment posted November 21, 2008 @ 7:23 pm

What a Jerk with a capital J. How come he wasn't stopped before now? Was it just because he was far-far away in Alaska.

It is no wonder why hard working/tax paying American citizens don't trust any city leaders or politicians !!!
The Polotical Machinery needs to do a better job of Policing itself or there will be a rebellion of the American people.

Bill Melater
Comment posted November 21, 2008 @ 9:44 pm

The man has been corrupt as long as he has been in the Senate – 50 years! Unfotunately, where big oil is concerned, this seems to be the only kind of politicians that get elected. Let's hope Begich is a change.

Barnacle Bill The Sailor
Comment posted November 22, 2008 @ 11:28 pm

Nice article that ties a lot of things together nice and neat, here are a few more rabbit holes for you to wander down: Trevor McCabe and the Seward Marine Life Center; Steven Silver, Jack Abramoff and Greenburg Traurig; Pac-West, Arctic Power, Jerry Hood, Teamsters Local 959 and Roger Herrera; George Lowe, Art Nelson, George Wuerch and KABATA; Carl Marrs, CIRI and the Golden Horn Lodge; Desiree Lekanoff, Michelle Rothe, Jozef Boehm, Bill Allen, Bambi Tyree and Turnagain Arm torsos; Ben Stevens, Special Olympics, Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, Al Chaffee, Yardarm Knot.

And we haven't even mentioned Don Young yet.

Comment posted November 23, 2008 @ 5:07 pm

The man belongs in jail, but he will probably end up as a paid contributor for fox news. That's where the rest of the republican felons seen to go

Comment posted November 27, 2008 @ 2:14 pm

how about mccain and Donald Diamond ??


laundry room design
Comment posted January 21, 2009 @ 3:48 am

Sadly, I doubt we're gonna never see that happening.

L. Vaughn
Comment posted January 26, 2009 @ 6:39 pm

Remember what Thomas Jefferson said. I shudder to think of the fate of our country when i reflect that God is just.

Japan Massage
Comment posted January 30, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

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Japan Massage
Comment posted January 30, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

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