Alaska editorial: Governor's ethics bill is a good start

Posted: Thursday, February 01, 2007

The following editorial first appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:

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Gov. Sarah Palin has released her idea for an ethics bill to the Alaska Legislature. She said in her State of the State address earlier this month that it didn't matter who wrote the final bill, as long as good ethics legislation results. Now legislators from both sides of the aisle and the administration all have weighed in on the topic and it's time to start working.

Using one of her buzzwords, the governor said her bill will clean up the executive branch and provide greater "transparency."

Here's what she says her bill provides:

• Mandatory electronic filing of campaign and financial disclosure reports.

• More detail in financial disclosures when lawmakers and other officials receive more than $1,000 for work.

• Full disclosure of financial and business interests by lawmakers and other officials within 90 days of leaving office.

• Clearer definition of "conflict of interest."

• A ban on gifts from lobbyists to all public officials, including staff.

• Tighter employment restrictions on those who leave public office.

All concern areas that needed work, and we are happy to see the discussion beginning. Palin wasn't the first to suggest ethics legislation this session. Eight lawmakers had filed ethics bills before the session even began.

We're sure each proposal will be studied carefully to come up with the most effective possible bill.

Some of the suggested requirements might be puzzling to us outsiders - for instance, in Palin's bill, requiring electronic filing. At first blush, this might appear to be going too far.

After all, shouldn't one be able to file paperwork on, well, paper? The problem with that is, a legislator or candidate can temporarily hide campaign financing - in which the public has a legitimate interest in finding in timely fashion - by filing on paper instead of electronically. Given the time it takes to convert paperwork to something accessible to everyone, a candidate can follow the letter of the law while subverting its spirit.

If there's another way to get around that sort of subterfuge (which might not be intentional) while allowing people to file the paperwork in the way they are most comfortable - an earlier filing date requirement for those who opt to do things the old-fashioned way, for example - that might be workable, too. The important thing is that the public knows, when it wants and needs to know, who is giving money to whom.

In Alaska, we're used to straight talk. Our legislators, as Alaskans, also have pride in that reputation.

We're hoping, with all the ethics legislation out on the table that this year, legislators do more than talk about the need for openness in government.

Working together on ethics reform will be a good way for the Legislature and administration to begin to accomplish it. ost legislators have the right ethics; it's time to write them down, and make sure all who serve the public embrace them.

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