Veco, once Alaska's biggest oil field contractor, teamed up with other companies in the mid-1990s to propose building and operating a private prison. One of the first places they suggested for the prison was South Anchorage.
"They approached me and said we got a whole bunch of money here for your re-election campaign and we'll give you the engineering contracts and everything," said Bell, who was running for his second Assembly term in 1996. "And I said, 'Ain't going to happen. Nobody in South Anchorage wants that prison there and I represent them and it ain't going happen.' "
But Bell also said he didn't go to the FBI. Told that the offer of an engineering contract in return for his support of the prison as an Assemblyman could be a crime, Bell replied:
Years later, the FBI learned of bribes and bribe offers to legislators over a private prison and opened an investigation called "Operation Polar Pen." By 2006, the investigation was looking into the effort by Veco, an oil field contractor, to hold down state oil taxes through bribes of legislators. Six legislators were eventually convicted of federal and state charges stemming from the investigation.
Bell said his business dealings with oil company clients would be an asset, not a liability, as a state senator.
"We're proud of the fact that we do business with the oil industry," he said. "We've been doing business with them for many years. I have negotiated millions of dollars worth of contracts with those guys. I know how to negotiate with them."
Bell's disclosure of his clients and their payments came as a result of a complaint to the Alaska Public Offices Commission by a resident in his district, Edward Cullinane. Bell's initial report failed to list any clients of Bell and Associates and didn't disclose how much money the firm made in 2011 -- only that his salary there was between $200,000 and $500,000, and that he collected a similar range of income from the company as interest, a result of converting the firm to employee ownership through a trust.
"You have a right to know by the law where he is getting his money from," Cullinane said in a brief interview.
In his complaint, filed Aug. 10, Cullinane said the missing information "is essential in allowing voters to make an educated choice about the individual on their ballot. The information must be placed before the voters in his district." Cullinane said he received assistance in filing the complaint from attorney Joe McKinnon, a former Democratic lawmaker.
In responding to the complaint, APOC director Paul Dauphinais said in a report Sept. 6 that the law required Bell to disclose the clients, but recommended that the $1,040 maximum fine be reduced to zero because the law was changed last year. The previous regulation would have required Bell to only disclose clients if he were owner of the firm. The rules were changed in 2011 to also require disclosure if he had effective control of the company.
Bell said he thought the change of ownership of Bell and Associates in 2007, when he sold the company to the employee trust, absolved him of having to list his clients. After Dauphinais' Sept. 6 letter, he refiled his report, listing the clients, but not disclosing how much they paid.
On Sept. 19, Dauphinais revised his report, saying Bell was still in violation for not disclosing the fees.
Bell said he wasn't resisting the commission, but had needed to resolve confidentiality agreements with clients.
"So I made some calls and everybody said, 'We're good,' " Bell said.
Bell said his salary from the engineering firm was $200,000 in 2011 and was not affected by income from any client, including BP.
The recommendation that Bell not be fined will be taken up by the bipartisan commission before the Nov. 6 election, Dauphinais said.