JUNEAU, AK: Critics are blasting Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski for using public money to hire a PR firm in an effort to tell Alaskans where he stands on public policy issues just one year before an election.
Murkowski's office awarded a state communications contract to the Seattle-based subsidiary of Hill & Knowlton in July that could have topped out at $23,000. When the contract expired in September, Rockey Hill & Knowlton (RH&K) billed the state for only $3,000, according to Murkowski press secretary Becky Hultberg.
"We're talking to the contractor and looking at continuing some sort of relationship," she explained.
Hultberg downplayed an October 16 Associated Press story that suggested RH&K may have been hired to boost the governor's image in case he decides to run for reelection in 2006.
Because the contract totaled less than $25,000, the governor was not required by state law to open the proposed communications work to a competitive bidding process. The contract was not the first time Murkowski's office had worked with RH&K, whose founder, Jay Rockey, is a long-time acquaintance of Murkowski. Earlier this summer, the PR firm conducted a communications assessment for the governor's office, work that totaled less than $5,000, Hultberg said.
Rockey founded Jay Rockey Public Relations in 1962 and later merged his firm with Hill & Knowlton in 2000. "I know that the governor has a long relationship with Jay Rockey going back to the early days of the Alaska pipeline," Hultberg noted.
RH&K had not returned a call for comment by press time.
The contract called for RH&K to assist the governor's communications office in refining and distilling his message. The firm was also tasked with helping streamline the internal procedures used by the governor's communications team.
Alaska State Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Democrat, told the AP that the contract with RH&K "looks inappropriate," particularly if it doesn't produce anything more specific than shaping Murkowski's overall message.