This editorial appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:
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No personal offense meant to anyone involved, but decisions and - if necessary - fines must come much quicker in high-profile cases of Alaska campaign law violations.
It just doesn't work if the penalty comes three months after the violation and two months after the election, as happened this past week with the case against the Republican Governors Association. The Alaska Public Offices Commission fined the Washington, D.C.-based political group $27,000 for violating Alaska's campaign laws in last fall's gubernatorial election.
The group had sent a mass mailing to Alaskans, in support of Republican candidate Sarah Palin, but the 120,000 postcards arrived after the deadline allowed in law for such political ads. The Republicans' weak excuse for missing the deadline was to blame the U.S. Postal Service. The group said it mailed the postcards from the East Coast - cheap bulk rate - two days before the deadline. Sorry, but that lame excuse isn't even worth a first-class stamp. Anyone who says they expected junk mail to travel from the East Coast to Alaska in two days is either a liar or foolishly unrealistic.
The Alaska Public Offices Commission also found the Republican Governors Association had violated state campaign finance law in running television commercials on behalf of Gov. Palin's candidacy.
Good decisions but not timely enough. Public Offices Commission staff and the commissioners themselves must move quicker.
Which means the Legislature needs to give the agency more money to do its job faster. That's more funding for investigators and whatever else is needed to ensure violations are exposed or dismissed while still fresh in voters' minds. It's likely that guilty - or not guilty - findings issued during an election would mean more to voters than orders issued after the election.
Maybe the Legislature's budget writers need to treat the Public Offices Commission the same way they treat the Division of Elections: more funding in election years to add temporary staff to get the job done, then less funding in the off-years.
And, if needed, legislators should amend the statute to provide for quicker action on complaints. That could include tighter deadlines to respond to complaints, to file answers to investigators' questions, to schedule hearings and issue decisions.
If Alaska is going to be serious about enforcing its campaign finance laws, it needs to do better than three months for a decision. Voters should know before they cast their ballots if a candidate, political party or advocacy group has trouble following the rules.
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