AP NewsBreak: Alaska hired consultants ahead of Obama visit

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Posted: Oct 06, 2015 10:26 PM
AP NewsBreak: Alaska hired consultants ahead of Obama visit

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Gov. Bill Walker's administration spent $50,000 on consultants to help prepare for a visit by President Barack Obama and nearly another $2,000 on a professional photographer to capture what was described as a once-in-a-lifetime encounter.

The expenditures were revealed in public records obtained by The Associated Press and came at a time when state spending is under renewed scrutiny as Alaska grapples with multibillion-dollar budget deficits amid low oil prices.

The firm Perkins Coie was hired in a contract running from July 8 to Aug. 31, when Obama arrived in Alaska for a multiday visit. The contract was for up to $50,000 — the final amount paid, Walker spokeswoman Katie Marquette said Tuesday.

Obama visited Alaska over three days in late August and early September, speaking at a U.S. State Department-hosted Arctic climate summit in Anchorage before traveling to outlying communities as part of an effort to draw attention to climate change concerns.

It wasn't clear if governors of other states hired consultants before presidential visits. The president's visits to other states have been brief. Obama's trip to Alaska was unusually long and received international attention.

Alaska's contract listed Peter Rouse and Mark Patterson as authorized representatives for Perkins Coie. Rouse was a longtime Obama aide and Patterson was chief of staff to two Treasury secretaries under Obama. They lead the firm's public and strategic affairs practice based in Washington, D.C.

Among the scope of possible services, the contract listed assisting Walker's staff in preparing the governor for meetings and interactions with Obama and senior Obama administration officials, and providing advice to Walker and his staff on ways to "maximize productive collaboration" with the Obama administration during the planning phase prior to the president's visit.

Marquette said Walker's office worked with Rouse, who is knowledgeable about how the White House works and was able to provide "valuable input in preparing for this, really, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and how the state could get the most out of it."

Rouse advised the governor's office on ways to approach the Obama administration, provided guidance on White House protocol and organization, and acted as a sounding board for some of the Walker administration's ideas and written communications, she said.

Rouse also encouraged Walker's office to use the visit as an opportunity to push Alaska's pending Medicaid-related requests, which it did, Marquette said. That resulted in speedier and even more beneficial decisions from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services than the state health department had anticipated, including expected policy changes that could mean millions of dollars in savings for the state, she said.

Marquette stressed that Rouse did not talk to the Obama administration on behalf of Walker.

Money for the contract came from the governor's office budget, which includes funds set aside for contingency expenses, she said. The money used did not take away from anything else, she said.

The resources put toward preparing for Obama's visit also allowed Walker's office to work on building a stronger relationship with the Obama administration, she said.

Walker is expected to meet Wednesday with the Interior secretary to discuss oil development in Alaska, Marquette said.

Walker flew to Washington so he could accompany Obama on Air Force One on the president's flight to Alaska. In an op-ed, Walker said he was able to spend nearly two hours with Obama during that trip, discussing issues of concern to Alaska.

The AP requested a breakdown of state-agency costs related to Obama's visit. The contract was in documents released by the offices of Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott for their associated costs.

The documents included an invoice for $1,925 from Clark James Mishler Photography for photographing the Anchorage arrivals of Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. The invoice is for 11 hours of photography and production at $175 an hour.

Marquette said the governor's office does not have a photographer on staff, though it has a staff member who helps with photography on occasion. While Mishler was not the most inexpensive photographer considered, his work fell within budget and he was chosen after a review of resumes and portfolios of other photographers who reached out, she said.

It's rare for a president to visit and was appropriate to have a skilled photographer on hand to take pictures, Marquette said. Photos were shared with the media and public, she said. The AP used a Mishler photo provided by Walker's office of Kerry's arrival, which was closed to media.

Gifts purchased for the Obamas included a pair of sterling silver earrings for first lady Michelle Obama, for $70, and long-sleeve hoodie T-shirts for the Obama daughters totaling $73.50, the documents show.

Separately, the Department of Public Safety released information reporting its costs related to the visit for equipment, expenses and personnel, for things like overtime, totaled about $55,000.

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This story has been corrected to show that the Kerry arrival was closed to the media.