Alaska editorial: No more delays on ethics laws

Posted: Thursday, January 18, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

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Just in case some reluctant lawmakers needed a reminder - or a kick in the head - why it's imperative that they quickly pass clear and precise ethics legislation this session, they need look only as far as last week's Alaska Public Offices Commission ruling against Anchorage Sen. Ben Stevens.

The commission assessed $5,630 in fines against Sen. Stevens, whose term ended Tuesday, for failing to disclose the names and payments of clients to one of his consulting firms and failing to disclose more than $70,000 in deferred compensation earned as a director of Enstar's parent company. The fact that Enstar is the state-regulated natural gas utility for Southcentral Alaska makes it that much more noticeable.

The senator's answers for failing to disclose the details of all of his financial dealings were threefold:

First, his former consulting firm was what's called a "limited liability company," not really a corporation and not really a partnership, and the Public Offices Commission had been unsure how to apply disclosure rules to such relatively new entities as LLCs.

Second, Sen. Stevens didn't believe his 50 percent interest in the LLC constituted a "controlling interest" as specified in legislative financial disclosure laws. Companies paid the LLC almost $400,000 in business and consulting fees during the three years in question.

Third, as for the deferred compensation, the senator argued he didn't need to report the income until he actually pocketed the cash.

The Public Offices Commission ruled otherwise and fined the senator for violating financial disclosure laws.

Now it's up to lawmakers to amend state statute so that no present or future legislator can ever try splitting the same legal hairs as Sen. Stevens.

A long list of legislators - mostly Democrats, some Republicans - already have lined up in support of ethics reform legislation that would explicitly require lawmakers to report income from limited liability companies. The bills also would require lawmakers to more fully disclose what exactly they did to earn whatever money they received - no more hiding behind the vague catchall of "consulting."

They're good bills at the right time to help restore public confidence in the Legislature's financial disclosure laws.

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