close
close

OPINION: The moral imperative before the Alaska Legislature

Ethics and integrity are rapidly eroding in Alaska’s government. Two bills, SB 165 and SB 17, are making their way through our Legislature to right some major wrongs and enshrine good government in our laws. Legislators have a moral imperative to pass these bills.

Senate Bill 165, sponsored by Sen. Matt Claman, fixes the harm done by Attorney General Treg Taylor last October when he unwisely implemented a corrupt arrangement to benefit only him, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom. It simply reads that the Department of Law, including the attorney general, may not represent or advise the governor, the lieutenant governor or another public officer or former public officer in a matter in which that public officer or former public officer is the subject of a complaint filed under the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.

The legislative branch established Alaska’s ethics laws and required the highest ethical standards for state employees.

Until October 2023, public monies and resources were not to be used to defend any executive branch officials when they were the subject of ethics complaints that depict unethical and dishonest wrongdoings and abuses of authority and positions.

However, at the behest of Taylor, Lt. Gov. Dahlstrom approved changes to Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act regulations that authorized the Dept. of Law to defend and represent the governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general in proceedings before the Alaska Personnel Board.

Although more than a hundred public comments were submitted in opposition, and multiple legal opinions from Legislative Legal clearly stated these changes to be illegal because they potentially violate numerous clauses of the Alaska Constitution (including the public purpose, separation of powers, and equal protection clauses ), Lt. Dahlstrom ignored the governor’s, attorney general’s and her conflicts of interest as she legalized a two-tier system of justice and accountability for public officials.

This dubious change to Ethics Act regulations — to use inexhaustible state funds, assets, resources, and personnel to foot their legal bills and defend them, even if they’re found to have violated the ethics law — is a massive conflict of interest, a textbook example of self-dealing, and smacks of corruption.

AKPIRG believes that when public officials put themselves above the law and bypass constitutional and statutory checks and balances to get special benefits, they inflict real harm to Alaskans.

AKPIRG agrees with former Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, who stated, “The attorney general is charged with representing the state of Alaska. The governor is not the client except to the extent he represents the state. Allowing the attorney general in his sole discretion to defend ethics complaints against the governor or lieutenant governor, or the Department of Law to defend the AG, is inappropriate and inherently inconsistent with the attorney general’s role. It is also an inappropriate use of state resources.”

SB 165 is currently in the Senate Finance Committee awaiting a hearing. Let your legislators know that the administration’s corruption of our public process, which provides personal financial benefits to only the governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, is wrong.

Senate Bill 17 proposes to reset limits to political campaign contributions. Our campaign finance laws are intended to restore the public’s trust in the electoral process and to foster good government. The campaign disclosure law directly limits the influence of contributors on candidates by limiting the size of campaign contributions.

The first bill to limit campaign contributions was passed by the Alaska Legislature in 1974 and was set at $1,000. A couple of ballot initiatives and changes to laws later, which lowered then raised those limits, culminating in a 2021 US Ninth Circuit Court action that found Alaska’s campaign contribution limits were unconstitutionally low, so they were abolished altogether.

The people of Alaska strongly support these caps on campaign donations, which were enacted into law by a direct vote of the people. Seventy-three percent of voters voted for a 2006 initiative that the Alaska Public Research Interest Group helped run successfully.

It’s not hard to see why these limits are so important. Without campaign spending limits, the ideal of “one person, one vote” is no longer true — instead, whoever has the most money has the most influence.

AKPIRG believes that the people’s will regarding campaign donation limits should be restored to the greatest extent possible. This can be done by simply taking the campaign limits from the 2006 initiative and then indexing those limits to the inflation rate.

Let your legislators and Senate Rules Chair Bill Wielechowski know SB 17 must pass to combat corruption and the appearance of corruption in our elections.

If you’re an Alaskan tired of the abuse of power, cronyism and corruption at the hands of our public officials, please take action today and let your senator and representative know they have a moral imperative to pass SB 17 and SB 165 into law.

Robin O’Donoghue is Special Projects Lead for the Alaska Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to [email protected] or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and comments here.