Alaska's governor reports receiving interesting gifts

AP News
|
Posted: May 09, 2016 8:22 PM
Alaska's governor reports receiving interesting gifts

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — When you're governor, you get swag — gifts that are protocol from other government officials or pleasantries from people you meet as part of your travels or duties.

Since taking office, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has reported receiving everything from calendars, pins and booze to sea otter mittens from the Yakutat Tlingit Tribes, duck calls from the president of the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation and a silver-plated framed photograph of Norway's king, from King Harald V himself.

The gifts were reported in Walker's ethics disclosure forms.

Under Alaska law, public officials in the executive branch must report gifts worth at least $150 if it's connected to their official position or if it could pose a conflict of interest. That applies to gifts from individuals, groups, companies or associations, state ethics attorney Jonathan Woodman said. Gifts from another government, regardless of value, must be declared, he said.

Gifts from lobbyists are generally presumed to be off limits, Woodman said.

The governor's office by law decides the disposition of gifts from other governments.

Some gifts, Woodman said, clearly are for personal use and not for display in a state office or museum: coffee mugs, pens, calendars or books. The governor's director of administrative services typically makes the determination but out of caution often gets a second opinion from the attorney general's office, Woodman said.

Gifts from dignitaries reported by Walker included a trip on Air Force One, in which he accompanied President Barack Obama from Washington, D.C. to Alaska last summer. The flight was valued by the White House at $426.20. Walker also got an engraved wooden box with two sets of playing cards, valued at $50, from Obama.

Meanwhile, the Walker administration gave First Lady Michelle Obama a $70 pair of sterling silver, salmon head earrings and the Obama daughters hoodie T-shirts from a Juneau business.

Walker also reported gifts of travel from ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp., for tours of their North Slope facilities last year; a football signed by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson from an executive with Alaska Airlines and a book on Iceland from that country's president.

A gift often will reflect the values or priorities of a government or dignitary, and Walker administration officials try to reciprocate by giving Alaska-made gifts, such as smoked salmon, Alaska Native arts and crafts and books by Alaska authors, Walker said in an emailed response to questions. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, for example, reported receiving a National Geographic magazine and Mongolian cow milk candy from the U.S. ambassador to Mongolia.

"The most important and rewarding aspect of my meetings with other dignitaries is the exchange of ideas and the development of opportunities to benefit Alaska," Walker said. "Gifts may help break the ice and show respect, but the whole purpose of any meeting is to further the interests of Alaskans."

Walker said many of the gifts that he and Mallott receive are homemade, "which makes them extra special."

He said he wore the fur sea otter mittens during a three-mile run with former Iditarod champion John Baker's dog team during the ceremonial start of this year's race, pronouncing them to be very warm.

He cited as unique mounted Alaska king crabs that he and Mallott received. Walker's was red and Mallott's blue, which Walker said reflected their "unity ticket." Walker changed his party affiliation from Republican to undeclared in running for governor in 2014 with the Democrat Mallott as his running mate. Walker's crab is displayed in his Anchorage office.

Walker's predecessor, Gov. Sean Parnell, reported a similar variety of gifts during his tenure, including, 30 pounds of king crab from the city of Unalaska, beaded leather moccasins from a leader of Copper River Native Association and crystal ware from the then-president of Sumitomo Metal Mining.

The mining company hosted a dinner for Walker administration officials in Tokyo last year for a gas conference.