Tara Sweeney, who is Inupiat from Alaska, has been nominated to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs but has not secured a confirmation hearing in the Senate. Photo: Frode Overland Andersen / Utenriksdepartementet

Spouse of Bureau of Indian Affairs nominee lands deal with ex-Trump aide

As the nomination of Tara Sweeney to lead the Bureau of Indian Affairs sits in limbo, her husband has entered into a new deal.

According to Alaska Public Media, a consulting company owned by Kevin Sweeney is being paid $15,000 a month to promote the state of Alaska's natural gas project. The work is being done through Black Rock Group, a firm founded by Mike Dubke, who served as communications director for President Donald Trump for less than three months last year.

“Their resume speaks very well as far as their experience,” Rosetta Alcantra, the vice president of communications for the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, told Alaska Public Media of the arrangement. “Not only on the national level and kind of knowing that messaging and who to talk to – that’s definitely a piece that kind of resonates – but they also have that Alaska connection.”

"I'm proud to have an Alaska staff that can jump right in and lend a hand!" Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said in April 2014 of Kevin Sweeney, who was serving as her state director at the time. Photo: Lisa Murkowski

Kevin Sweeney is a former staffer for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who has championed his wife's stalled nomination. He managed her historic write-in campaign in 2010, during which Alaska Native corporations spent more than $1 million to boost turnout for the then-candidate.

He also has worked for the Alaska Federation of Natives, where his wife has served in leadership positions, and for a subsidiary of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, where his wife serves as an executive.

Kevin Sweeney apparently stopped working for Murkowski last September and started Six-7 Strategies. A month later, Trump announced his wife as his pick for Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.

Despite enjoying broad support in Indian Country, Tara Sweeney has yet to secure a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. According to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who would be her boss, it's because of her Alaska Native background.

"To say that you can't be a Native Alaskan to represent Native Alaskans is unconscionable," Zinke told the National Congress of American Indians during the organization's winter session in Washington, D.C., in February. NCAI has supported Sweeney's nomination.

Murkowski also has said Sweeney's corporate ties are an issue. The situation is unique because Congress created the Native corporate system with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

In other cases, a presidential nominee could easily sell, divest or re-direct her business interests but requiring Sweeney to do so is unfair, Murkowski told Alaska Public Media last month.

If confirmed by the Senate, Sweeney would be the first Alaska Native to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. There have been 12 confirmed Assistant Secretaries since 1977.

Prior to the creation of the Assistant Secretary position, the late Morris Thompson, who was Alaska Native, led the Bureau of Indian Affairs from from 1973–1976. He held the title of Commissioner of Indian Affairs, which did not require Senate confirmation.

The Assistant Secretary post has been vacant since January 2016.

Read More on the Story:
Gasline signs a DC insider (Alaska Public Media April 2, 2018)

Also Today:
How Lisa Murkowski Mastered Trump’s Washington (The New York Times Magazine April 5, 2018)

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