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It’s been a rough summer for Alaska’s men in Washington. A long-running corruption probe of oil money, legislators, and lobbyists in the Juneau Statehouse percolated up to Alaska’s congressional delegation, with the FBI raiding Sen. Ted Stevens’ Alaska home and Rep. Don Young, the state’s only member of the House, also coming under federal investigation. But from the viewpoint of the Alaskan city of Wrangell, it’s hard to see how the state’s Washington power structure got a bad name. Were it in most other states, Wrangell wouldn’t have a lobbyist. Located 200 miles southeast of Juneau, the city has seen its logging-based economy flag under federal conservation measures, and its population has recently dropped below 2,000. But over the years, Wrangell’s federal lobbyist, Brad Gilman of Robertson, Monagle & Eastaugh, has managed to help the city snare millions of dollars in federal funds for a harbor, roads, sewer and water systems, community coal storage, and other projects. The money “helped stem a mass exodus,” says Robert Prunella, Wrangell’s city manager. “It helped with the survival of this town, actually.” The oldest continually operating law firm in Alaska, Robertson, Monagle has 14 attorneys on staff, as well as an outpost in Arlington, Va., with four registered lobbyists. On Prunella’s rare visits to Washington, the firm can land him face time with high-ranking officials in the Department of Forestry or the Army Corps of Engineers. When he’s not there, firm staff provide monthly legislative updates, field his calls, and work closely with the Alaska delegation’s D.C. staff. For all this, Prunella says, he pays less than $30,000 a year, adding that the firm has never hiked its rates. Robertson, Monagle reported a little more than $2.4 million in disclosed lobbying revenues last year. “I trust them,” Prunella says, noting that plenty of other Alaskan coastal communities have signed on with the firm. “One or two of the partners were Alaska-raised, and that’s important.” ALASKA GOLD MINE In fact, several of the firm’s partners are not just Alaska natives — they were raised in Stevens’ office. One, Steven Silver, was once a legislative assistant to the Republican senator; partner Gilman, a childhood friend of Stevens’ son, Ben, left his position as a fisheries aide to the senator for lobbying work in the seafood industry. In the late 1990s, Senate records show, Ben Stevens even registered as a federal lobbyist for the firm, representing the city of Unalaska. These days, Robertson, Monagle represents more than 20 public entities in the state, as well as significant players in Alaska’s seafood industry, such as Trident Seafoods and Seafreeze. But although it has had a hand in a flood of federal dollars to Alaska (for example, it represents Ketchikan Gateway Borough, a beneficiary of the nine-figure “Bridge to Nowhere”), the firm has kept a relatively low profile. Neither Robertson, Monagle nor Stevens’ D.C. office returned calls for this story. Federal lobbying has rarely made it out of the delegation’s long shadow, says Amy Lovecraft, a professor of political science at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. In classes, she says, she sometimes has to remind students that the appropriations process is not monolithic. Lobbying “doesn’t tend to be something people pay a lot of attention to,” she says, “because Stevens has been so predominant in people’s minds as �Uncle Ted.’” Yet Robertson, Monagle & Eastaugh also focuses on issues that, to anyone outside a key group in the state, are obscure. In a state that is tiny in almost every sense but the geographic one, the members of the fishing industry make up an even more isolated subset. Though they create billion-dollar revenues, fishing and processing are largely done by private companies working in coastal communities with limited ties to the state capital. Given the high stakes and specialization of the fishing industry, many of the Alaska delegation’s former staffers are lured into lobbying on its behalf. “I think anyone who’s worked on fishing issues for an Alaskan member has a natural base of issues to work on,” says Earl Comstock, a former Stevens aide who initially worked for fishing trade associations before branching out into telecom issues. TROLLING FOR DOLLARS IN D.C. More than a half-dozen Stevens aides have left the Hill to take up prominent positions in the fisheries lobbying industry over the years. During that same period, says Seth Macinko, a University of Rhode Island professor who studies Alaskan fisheries, the industry has increasingly looked to its congressional delegation for policy changes, undercutting regional efforts to set policy by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. The effort reached full steam in 1998, Macinko says, when seafood processors successfully lobbied for federally assigned stakes in the Bering Sea pollock harvest. “It’s pretty clear that that was a watershed event, and that the industry learned that if it didn’t get what it wanted, it could go back to Congress,” Macinko says. “The lesson is, now, try to get what you want through the council, but don’t try too long.” Clem Tillion, who at 82 is a former state fishing czar and state legislator from Halibut Cove, says the industry’s small enough to ensure that its own “don’t pull something sneaky.” Still, he feels some discomfort with the way some of Stevens’ staffers made their transition to the private sector. There have been instances in which fisheries aides have chosen to help draft legislation, “then immediately hire out to the guy that’s going to break it, because [they] know all the holes,” he says. “I think there were times that Ted was poorly served.” But clubbiness hardly distinguishes Alaskan lobbying from its equivalent in the lower 48, some say. “There’s a whole group of lobbyists who for the most part grew up in Don Young’s office, in Ted Stevens’ office, and [former senator and governor] Frank Murkowski’s office,” says Ashley Reed, a state lobbyist on maritime, tourism, and natural resource issues. “If you look at how they make their money, their success has been built around relationships and familiarity — just like how any lobbying is done.” It’s that entrenchment of the state’s politics that has helped the state build its clout in Washington over the years, says Prunella. And from the perspective of Wrangell’s seven-person city hall, the main problem with it is just that the state’s senior legislators are getting old. “I think the people younger than me ought to be concerned,” Prunella says. “A change in the delegation — that’s like starting all over again.”
Jeff Horwitz can be contacted at [email protected].

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