Jim Clark nearly committed the perfect crime, and if not for the feds, he might have gotten away with it.
Clark, former Gov. Frank Murkowski's powerful chief of staff, in 2003 helped Murkowski and legislators reduce the statute of limitations on violations of campaign finance laws so that allegations of wrongdoing could only be prosecuted by the state within one year, rather than four years.
On Tuesday, Clark, a longtime Juneau power broker and lawyer, pleaded guilty in federal court in Anchorage to helping funnel more than $68,000 in illegal campaign contributions to Murkowski's 2006 re-election campaign.
Those contributions can't be prosecuted by the state because they happened more than a year ago, according to the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
Clark himself, along with Murkowski and legislative leaders, worked in 2003 to reduce the statute of limitations from four years to one year, said Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, who opposed the change.
House Bill 281, sponsored by Lynn, would restore the old statute of limitations and even extend it a year to five years.
"The whole purpose of HB 281 is to rebuild the foundation of trust," Lynn said.
"Had this bill been in place today, the state could have prosecuted this," he said.
The state's weakened law became a moot issue, however. It was the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Public Integrity that discovered and prosecuted Clark's actions.
Lynn's bill has passed out of the House State Affairs Committee with support from Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau, and others. He said he's been promised a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.
If the bill passes the House, Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he expects the bill to have a good chance in the Senate.
French is now in the Senate Bipartisan Working Group, the coalition that controls the body, but in 2003 he was in a Democratic minority that was unable to stop the effort by Murkowski and Clark to reduce the statute of limitations.
"The Democrats fought these rollbacks tooth and nail, but suddenly there's a new wind blowing."
That same year, the Legislature changed the state's lobbying rules so that VECO Corp. CEO Bill Allen didn't have to register as a lobbyist, among other changes. Allen and another VECO executive have pleaded guilty to bribing several public officials, including the illegal funding of Murkowski's campaign.
Allen and Clark are among those awaiting sentencing and cooperating with authorities in their continuing investigation.
A combination of guilty pleas and trial convictions have changed the fortunes of ethics legislation in the Legislature, French said.
"We got a bunch of sudden converts when people started going off to jail," he said.
House Democratic Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said the Legislature needs to capitalize on that by making sure Alaska has laws to stop future corruption.
"This can't be something that we ever have happen again," she said.
The Alaska Public Offices Commission supports Lynn's bill, and Executive Director Brooke Miles has testified in favor of the bill before the State Affairs Committee.
"It is definitely supported by the commission," said Chris Ellingson, the commission's deputy director.
Ellingson said she didn't know if the commission would investigate Clark's actions. It is unlikely violations could be prosecuted, but the commission has ordered investigations for informational purposes, she said.
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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