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Alaska senator denies any illegal, unethical behavior

Alaska senator denies any illegal, unethical behavior

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska dismissed calls Friday from activist groups that he resign as chairman of the Appropriations Committee and disputed a newspaper report that said he used his powerful position to enrich himself and others.

"If they think I am going to resign because of a story in a newspaper, they're crazy," he said at a news conference here.

Stevens, a Republican who has been in the Senate nearly 35 years, said he had done nothing illegal, immoral or unethical.

The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that the senator has grown wealthy from investments with people who benefited from legislation he helped write.

Stevens, 80, said he's been a senator so long that it would be hard to find any Alaska investment that people wouldn't see as a conflict.

"I know this state and I believe in its future, and this is where I want to invest my money when I have it," he said.

A private watchdog group, Project on Government Oversight, said Friday that Stevens should take the "honorable step" and resign his Appropriations chairmanship.

"This story is the most blatant example in recent history of a government official profiting from his power in public office," said Danielle Brian, the nonpartisan group's director. "We do not have confidence in any formal congressional proceedings, given Sen. Stevens' particularly powerful position."

On Thursday, the conservative Citizens Against Government Waste also said Stevens should step down from the chairmanship. The group also wants an investigation by the Senate ethics committee.

"Apparently, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate thinks he can get away with anything in the pursuit of a plush retirement," said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.

The organization frequently has criticized Stevens, the Senate's senior Republican, for steering billions of federal dollars to his home state.

The Appropriations Committee chaired by Stevens controls spending by all federal agencies and about one-third of the government's $2.2 trillion budget. Stevens has aggressively used his post to funnel money to his home state, as do many members of that committee.

In one instance examined by the Times, Stevens invested $50,000 in real estate partnerships that have grown in value since 1997 to between $750,000 and $1.5 million.

Stevens was made a partner in those investments by Anchorage developer John Rubini. Stevens helped Rubini keep a $450 million contract with the Defense Department for housing on Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage, the Times reported.

In a written statement on his real estate investments to the Los Angeles paper, Stevens said, "I am a passive investor. I am not now nor have I been involved in buying or selling properties, negotiating leases or making other management decisions."

Rubini, who was in California on Friday, said he would be available for comment later in the day.

The Times said Stevens' brother-in-law, lawyer and lobbyist William H. Bittner, has been in the middle of many of the deals.

Bittner told The Associated Press on Thursday that "almost every Alaskan" has asked Stevens for help during his long career.

"You have to sell your case for your client on its merits. More times than not, he says no rather than yes," Bittner said.

"I think the reporters wanted to write a certain kind of story, and they wrote it to insinuate that Stevens became wealthy doing favors for friends. If you read it carefully, the facts don't point to that at all."

— Arizona Daily Sun


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