Friday, July 13, 2007

Power politics come to Ketchum

Alaska and energy dominate Nethercutt connections

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Many Alaska and lobbying connections intersect with George Nethercutt Jr.'s resume. The city of Ketchum recently contracted for help with Nethercutt on the Bavarian Village workforce affordable housing effort.

Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commissioner Sam Williams referred the City Council to Nethercutt. The two have known one another since Williams was a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., in the 1970s.

"I've known George for quite a while," Williams said. "He's just a good guy."

Nethercutt was a five-term Republican congressman representing the Spokane area from 1995 until 2005. He lost a bid for U.S. Senate in 2004. He has ties to many former Bush-Cheney administration officials who are now lobbyists with clients in mining, oil, gas and other extractive industry interests. The firm is listed in the city of Ketchum contract as Nethercutt Consulting, LLC. Nethercutt was also a partner in the now-dissolved Lundquist, Nethercutt & Griles, LLC.

Here is the story of Nethercutt's connections with power elite from inside the Beltway.

Former partner sentenced in Abramoff scandal

Last spring, Lundquist, Nethercutt & Griles, LLC morphed into BlueWater Strategies, LLC after partner Steven Griles pleaded guilty to giving false testimony to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee as it investigated lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his pull with the Interior Department. Abramoff is serving six years in prison and cooperated with the investigation. Abramoff called Griles "our guy" at Interior in an e-mail, the Los Angeles Times reported last month.

A tearful Griles, the former No. 2 man in the Department of the Interior between 2001 and 2005, was sentenced on June 26 to 10 months in prison by Federal District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle, the New York Times reported. The judge refused to allow him to serve his sentence at home while doing charity work sponsored by the Walt Disney Co. Rather, she doubled the sentence that prosecutors recommended. Griles could have gotten up to five years in prison.

Griles, 59, is the highest-ranking administration official to be convicted in the influence-peddling corruption scandal involving Abramoff. Ten others have pleaded guilty or been convicted in connection with Abramoff's lobbying efforts, which resulted in his conviction for conspiracy to bribe public officials. Abramoff also pleaded guilty in Washington to fraud and tax evasion, as well as pleading guilty to fraud in Florida, the New York Times reported.

As the No. 2 guy in Interior under former Secretary Gale Norton, Griles was the point man for Bush's plans for federal leases on gas, oil and coal deposits beneath federal Western lands.

Griles arranged meetings between former clients and partners and Interior officials. While getting $284,000 a year from former clients, he also was receiving his Interior Department salary, a 2005 story from the Associated Press reported. Interior's inspector general, or watchdog, called Griles' behavior an "institutional failure," the AP article said. Griles said the accusations were politically motivated by Bush opponents.

In efforts to help Abramoff, prosecutors said, Griles reviewed a seating chart for a dinner party held by his sometime girlfriend Italia Federici (also convicted in the Abramoff scandal) to allow Abramoff to introduce clients to Interior officials, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Secret energy task force revelations

The "Lundquist" in the firm's previous name refers to Andrew Lundquist, also controversial after he led Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force from February through September 2001 during Bush's first four-year term. The task force, called the National Energy Policy Development Group, met in secret and then dissolved after calling for increases in the nation's energy supply through more gas and oil drilling on public lands including in Alaska. Lundquist then became Cheney's director of energy policy through 2002.

One day after leaving the government, Lundquist opened a consulting firm and nine months later he was lobbying for companies that could gain from the energy policies he shaped, the Boston Globe reported in April 2004. Lundquist has declined previous requests for interviews. He could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

The Washington Post obtained a document that stated executives from big oil met secretly with the Cheney-Lundquist task force in 2001 although the executives denied this in testimony before Congress, the Post reported in November 2005. A person knowledgeable about the task force's work, who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisal, said the document was based on Secret Service records of people admitted to the White House, the same Post article said. That person said, "most meetings were with Andrew Lundquist," the Post reported.

Lundquist, Nethercutt, Eric Washburn and Tim Kurth are all principals in BlueWater Strategies, LLC, said a spokesperson at the firm. Nethercutt will be the firm's counsel, according to the D.C.-based Web site The Politico. BlueWater takes its name from Washburn's affinity for sailing.

As Lundquist, Nethercutt & Griles the firm was all-Republican, but Washburn is a Democrat.

Alaska's Sen. Stevens subject of investigation

Lundquist, Nethercutt, and Kurth all have Alaska connections. Lundquist and Wasburn have a decades-long friendship starting when they both worked on energy issues "albeit on opposite sides of the aisle," The Politico Web site said.

Both Lundquist, who is from Fairbanks, and Nethercutt worked for Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Lundquist, was chief of staff for former Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska. Nethercutt was staff counsel and chief of staff to Stevens from 1972 until 1977. Lundquist was chief of staff for Murkowski from 1996 through 1998. Before that, Lundquist worked for Stevens.

Stevens, in the Senate for seven terms, is the subject of a federal grand jury investigation into his connections to a wealthy contractor who worked on Stevens' home and was convicted of bribing Alaska legislators, said a June 2007 Associated Press story.

Lundquist, Nethercutt & Griles is listed as a 2007 corporate sponsor of the Alaska State Society, the society's Web site said. The society is a group of 300-plus Alaskans and friends of Alaska living in the D.C. area, according to the site. "Regardless of how we got here, we all make a point of getting together four or five times a year to party Alaska-style," the Web site said.

The Alaska State Society lists among its other corporate sponsors: BP Corp. North America, Shell Oil Co. and ConocoPhillips Co.

The Alaska-Stevens connection continues in BlueWater with Tim Kurth on the staff. Kurth is a former aide to former House speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and his wife, Christine, is a longtime aide and now staff director for Ted Stevens.

In addition to being a principal in BlueWater, Eric Washburn is a member of the National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP), that organization's Web site said. The NCEP is a bi-partisan group formed in 2004 by 20 of the nation's leading energy experts to develop a long-term energy strategy. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation fund them. The late William Hewlett co-founded the Hewlett-Packard Corp. in his Palo Alto, Calif., garage.

Washburn also has Windward Consulting, LLC, his own lobbying firm, according to the NCEP site. From 2001 until 2003, he was senior policy advisor to Tom Daschle, the former U.S. Senate Majority Leader from South Dakota.

Washburn is also no stranger to controversy. In 1998, former South Dakota Gov. and Congressman Bill Janklow issued a decree that let Washburn apply for a hunting license as a South Dakota resident because of his work on legislation that helped the state, an Associated Press story reported. The next governor invalidated that decree. In 2004 Congressman Janklow resigned after he was sentenced to 100 days in jail after running a stop sign while speeding and killing a motorcyclist, the AP reported.

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