During a regular Assembly meeting on November 4, 2011, members Harriet Drummond and Elvi Gray-Jackson objected to a proposed no-bid contract that the administration wished to award former Assembly member and Anchorage lawyer Dan Coffey. The proposal sought to pay Coffey $60,000 over a six month period to lobby the state legislature, on behalf of the municipality, to advocate $350 million in appropriations for the Anchorage port expansion project.
The memorandum proposing the contract came from the mayor and made the case for why Dan Coffey was the right man for the job:
“Coffey Consulting is uniquely qualified due to extensive community experience, business acumen, and familiarity with processes and procedures of local government. The contractor is a long time resident of Anchorage, has specialized knowledge, and the confidence of the Administration relating to many issues involving both the public and private sectors.”
A memorandum from the Mayor’s Chief of Staff reinforced the messaging:
“As a former Assembly member, Coffey has substantial familiarity with the processes and procedures of local government. He is uniquely qualified to assist the Administration as it develops and analyzes the efficacy of these special projects.”
The memorandum before the Assembly awarding Coffey the contract was bolstered by an accompanying resolution echoing the mayor’s charge and adding the qualifier that “by approving this contract, the Assembly has also determined that Coffey Consulting is uniquely qualified for the task at hand….”
That resolution passed by a margin of nine to two, with Ms. Drummond and Ms. Gray-Jackson dissenting. The memorandum passed by the same margin, and Mr. Coffey had a new job.
At the time, Gray Jackson voiced her disapproval to Rosemary Shinohara of the Anchorage Daily News:
“[Mayor Sullivan's] going to pay an ex-Assembly member $60,000 to do what his chief of staff should be doing,”
On December 13, 2012, the Alaska Public Offices Commission received a formal complaint by a member of their staff, Brenda Joan Mize. The complaint alleged that Dan Coffey had not registered as a lobbyist during the period of time the municipality hired him to be a lobbyist, and that he had violated campaign contribution laws by donating to twenty different political campaigns in districts where he was ineligible to vote. This law is put in place because it gives lobbyists an undue power of quid pro quo influence over elected officials.
Yesterday, a settlement was reached between APOC and Dan Coffey. In a seven page agreement approved by the commission yesterday, “Staff concludes Mr. Coffey violated three sections of the lobbying law and one violation of campaign finance law.”
The violations included:
1. AS 24.45.041 – Registration – Failure to register as a lobbyist in 2011 and 2012
2. AS 24.45.051 – Registration – Failure to submit reports as required in 2011 and 2012
3. AS 24.45.121 – Prohibitions – Engaging in activity as a lobbyist before registering and contributions to legislative candidates
4. AS 15.13.074 – Contributions to candidates for legislative office outside his voting district
The maximum penalties for these violations would have reached $36,610.
However, APOC chose to mitigate the financial penalties for Mr. Coffey for two specific reasons. The first was an “inexperienced filer” discount. The second claims that “the civil penalty assessment is significantly out of proportion to the degree of harm to the public for not having the information.”
The result of these two factors being taken into consideration ended in Mr. Coffey’s $36,000 penalty being reduced by two thirds, to just around $12,000.
The justification for the initial contract to Coffey Consulting given by the Sullivan Administration and the Assembly was that Mr. Coffey was “uniquely qualified due to extensive community experience, business acumen, and a familiarity with the processes and procedures of local government….” [emphases added].
During that initial 2011 Assembly meeting where the body deliberated over whether this was a wise or unwise decision, Assemblyman Paul Honeman asked aloud:
“So, for $60,000 dollars, what is the return on investment? And of course that’s a tough one to grasp. I know Mr. Coffey, and the only thing that I have been able to say with a straight face is that you are very good at getting money; asking people for money.”
To which Mayor Sullivan responded, in part:
“[W]e’re actually saving money for the city by having Mr. Coffey do that same work on a contract basis rather than having a full loaded employee that we previously had in the executive branch. So, I think we’ve accomplished a win-win here with adding Mr. Coffey to the team and in doing so adding a savings to the city.”
According to the settlement agreed to by APOC and Coffey this Wednesday, “Mr. Coffey asserts that he was not required to register or report as a lobbyist because he did not exceed the statutory threshold of 10 hours in any 30-day period.”
Anchorage taxpayers hired Mr. Coffey at $1,000 per hour to procure only 30% of the funding for the port he was hired to secure. Somewhere in those ten hours per month that Mr. Coffey dedicated to lobbying as a not-a-lobbyist, he managed to use his unique qualifications and familiarity with the process of local government to commit four APOC violations.
This is our win-win.
The watch dog commission in charge of oversight and accountability is reducing the penalties to account for his inexperience. The Anchorage lawyer is getting an eighty percent reduction on the penalties accrued as a result of not registering as a lobbyist and a fifty percent reduction in the penalties accrued as a result of illegal contributions to candidates outside of his home district.
But he agreed that “should he enter into a similar consulting contract in the future involving lobbying activities, he would register and report such activities in accordance with this Consent Agreement.”