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Ethics panel does right

Posted: September 21, 2013 - 11:07pm

The following editorial first ran in the Anchorage Daily News on Sept. 12:

A legislative ethics panel lived up to its name in assessing almost $18,000 in reimbursements and penalties against former House member Alan Dick. A subcommittee of the House’s Select Committee on Legislative Ethics found that Dick violated ethics rules by living with his wife and son at his Fairbanks office while campaigning in 2012, using legislative aides on the state dime to help him prepare for a campaign debate, and wrongfully charging the state for campaign expenses.

In some cases, Dick drew money from both the state and campaign accounts, a double dip that shouldn’t require a course in legislative ethics to realize is wrong.

The panel reported that Dick acknowledged his violations to them.

The principle involved in this case is that a lawmaker must keep public service separate from private gain, be able to distinguish politics from legislating and representing his constituents. We understand this isn’t always a clear-cut division — that’s why challengers have long bemoaned the advantages of incumbency. The incumbent makes political hay even when he’s simply going about the public’s business.

But in Dick’s case, the divisions were clear. For campaign events, you use campaign staff, not legislative aides on the public payroll. You campaign on your campaign treasury, not on the public funds of your office. And you don’t live on the public’s dime in your off-session office.

Let’s be clear: This was not a case of a lawmaker taking or soliciting bribes or selling his vote. As the panel wrote, Dick’s violations showed a deliberate, “cavalier” attitude toward tapping public funds for personal use. This wasn’t a reprise of the “Corrupt Bastards Club” and the scandal that broke in 2006.

But it’s bad enough, for it’s still a betrayal of the public trust, and that’s something that has taken a beating at all levels of government in recent years. The punishment seems fair — Dick will have to reimburse what he wrongly took in state funds and cover the costs of the ethics panel’s investigation.

An Alaska lawmaker has to be an honest steward of Alaska’s funds, has to know the rules and live by them.

And when in doubt, pick up the tab.

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