On July 26, 2007 Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced that she would sell back an undeveloped piece of land that she purchased in 2006, one day after NLPC filed a Complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee alleging a “sweetheart deal.”
We took Murkowksi’s action as an admission that we were right, and that it mooted out the issue. Since she undid the questionable deal, we assumed there was no reason for the Ethics Committee to pursue the matter. But now Murkowski is claiming that there was nothing wrong with the deal after all.
The land is located on the scenic Kenai River, Alaska’s most popular waterway, where property values were rapidly escalating. The seller was real estate developer Bob Penney, a crony of the late Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK). The purchase price was $179,600, while similar lots were selling for between $250,000 and $350,000.
Joshua Saul reported in yesterday’s Alaska Dispatch:
Murkowski repeated Monday that she doesn’t think there was anything wrong with her buying the land from Penney or the price she paid him.
“If I felt that, I would not have moved forward with the purchase originally,” Murkowski said.
The only problem with the sale, she said, was the way the media latched onto the story.
The Dispatch also reported NLPC Chairman Ken Boehm’s response:
“The Murkowski land deal is a textbook example of a sweetheart deal between an elected official and special interests,” Boehm said. “She bought the property for half its market value and promptly sold it back as soon as the sweetheart deal was exposed.”
Boehm said Penney’s connections to Stevens and the Utah investment strengthen his feeling that there was something untoward about the transaction between Penney and Murkowski.
“The person who had offered her this sweetheart deal had been involved with questionable dealings with Sen. Stevens for many, many years,” Boehm said.
The “Utah investment” to which Boehm refers was another sweetheart deal where Penney cut Stevens in on a Utah land transaction in 1998 for $15,000. In 2004, Stevens sold his share of the property for $150,000.
If Lisa Murkowski is going to change her tune on the Kenai land deal, she must now answer this question: if there was nothing wrong with the land purchase, why did she sell it back?
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