This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:
Two former legislators demonstrated some improved judgment last week when they agreed to plea deals instead of undergoing new trials on political corruption charges.
The original cases against Reps. Pete Kott and Vic Kohring might have been executed in a flawed manner, but it’s hard to imagine new juries would have exonerated them.
Rather than taking their chances with juries, Kott and Kohring pleaded guilty to bribery. They were sentenced to time served — 17 months in Kott’s case and 12 in Kohring’s.
The punishment seems a little light, given what they admitted doing. At least taxpayers won’t have to spend any more money to re-establish the obvious: The legislators crossed into criminal territory when they took money for their personal use from an oil field contractor during a heated legislative debate about the state’s petroleum production tax.
“Both Kott and Kohring admitted to taking money from former VECO Corporation CEO Bill Allen during the 2006 legislative session and using their positions as state legislators to push for the adoption of what was known as the 20/20 PPT legislation that VECO wanted passed,” according to U.S. District Attorney Karen Loeffler’s news release Friday.
That dry summary fails to convey the full nature of what went on. Alaskans will not soon forget the secretly recorded video image of Kohring taking a wad of cash from Allen in Room 604 of the Baranof Hotel in Juneau. Kott received almost $8,000 extra from Allen on a false invoice for flooring work.
The money changed hands while the Legislature was debating revisions to the petroleum production tax. Allen wanted to keep the rate as low as possible. He had every right to express that desire to legislators. When he started secretly passing them money to underscore his opinions, his actions became criminal. The legislators who accepted that money also acted criminally.
Two years ago, Kott and Kohring were released from prison after the U.S. Justice Department found prosecutors had failed to turn over evidence to the defense during the trials. New trials were scheduled this fall in Fairbanks.
It’s hard to imagine those proceedings would have absolved Kott and Kohring of guilt. Their pleas saved taxpayer money and served justice.