A legislative aide in the Alaska State Legislature has resigned after an ethics panel recommended that she be fired for ethical violations and conflicts of interest involving her boosting of a hard-line anti-Islamic organization.
Karen Sawyer, who worked for two Republican legislators over the past nine years, “allowed state resources to be used for a non-legislative purpose and for the private benefit of David Heckert,” the Alaska regional director of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), according to one of two reports issued by a subcommittee of the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics. Sawyer failed to disclose that she was on SIOA's board of directors in 2011 and 2012, one of the reports said.
Sawyer allowed Heckert to use the Legislative Information Office in Wasilla, Alaska — even providing him with his own key to the government facility — and afforded him free use of state equipment and services during several months of work for the anti-Muslim group, the report says.
On one occasion, in August 2011, the anti-Muslim group held a fund-raising meeting in the state office, offering attendees cupcakes and cookies decorated with a symbol reflecting SIOA’s philosophy, the report says. The symbol was not further described.
SIOA — described as a hate group by both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League — believes Muslims are attempting to take over the United States and impose Shariah, or Islamic religious, law. The group was co-founded by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, widely regarded as among the shrillest anti-Muslim voices in America.
The ethics report doesn’t estimate the dollars loss to taxpayers or suggest reimbursement from Sawyer, a native of Minnesota who now lives in Palmer, Alaska. She worked for Rep. Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer), who succeeded the late Rep. Carl Gatto after he died earlier this year.
Sawyer’s acts were “loosely tied to state business,” the Anchorage Daily News reported on Friday. Gatto was the prime sponsor of a state House bill aimed at barring “foreign laws” from being enforced in Alaska — legislation he described as an anti-Shariah measure. It got little traction in the Legislature and Hughes, his successor, said in an interview she now doesn't see a need for such a law in Alaska, the newspaper reported.
The ethics panel, which received the complaint about Sawyer in February, concluded that she “lost sight of the purpose” of Gatto’s bill “and became personally and obsessively involved with SIOA and its mission.”
“Even Ms. Sawyer seemed to be cognizant of her obsession as she stated in a March 2011 e-mail, ‘My co-workers wonder if I’m getting obsessed with Sharia,’” the report said.
SIOA supported the proposed Alaska state legislation, the ethic committee reports says, but the anti-Muslim group’s main mission appeared to be promoting its own organization, using the proposed legislation as a “validation point.”
The ethics committee said it recommended that Sawyer “be terminated effective immediately. The committee also recommends that Ms. Sawyer never be re-employed by the Legislature again.”
The Alaska newspaper reported that Hughes described Sawyer as a “loyal and efficient employee.” But, the state legislator added, “There's just no room for this kind of activity when you are working on behalf of the public.”
On her Facebook page, Sawyer simply says she “left her job at the state legislature,” without commenting on the ethical lapse. The page says Sawyer’s “favorite quote” is, “The Truth is not hate speech.”