Proposal to ax APOC sparks criticism

Posted: Sunday, March 09, 2003

Critics are howling over Gov. Frank Murkowski's proposal to abolish the state agency that oversees campaign finance and lobbying activities in the state.

Murkowski wants to abolish the Alaska Public Offices Commission and move its record-keeping duties to the state Division of Elections and its enforcement powers to the Department of Law.

APOC collects records of campaign contributions, including names of donors and the amounts they give, from candidates and post reports online. Names of lobbyists, their clients and the amount they pay also are collected and made available to the public.

Administration officials say the commission is ineffective and its enforcement of laws has been influenced by partisan politics.

Critics say Murkowski's plan will weaken election and lobbying laws.

"It eliminates any meaningful oversight. What they are doing is shooting the watchdog," said Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat.

The move could force people to hire a lawyer and wage expensive legal fights to resolve campaign or lobbying complaints and create other problems, said public offices commissioner Andrea Jacobson.

The commission is overseen by Jacobson, who serves as a public member, and two members each appointed by the Republican and Democratic parties.

Murkowski's proposal would undermine APOC's independence by splitting its work between a division run by the lieutenant governor and the attorney general, Jacobson said. The lieutenant governor is elected on the same ticket as the governor and the attorney general is a gubernatorial appointee.

But the Murkowski administration contends the commission is slow to resolve complaints and that it appears to be influenced by partisan politics.

"Whether it is true or not, the appearance of that undermines the public's confidence," said Attorney General Gregg Renkes.

The commission collects financial disclosure and conflict-of-interest documents from public officials and political campaigns. It also regulates lobbying activities and investigates complaints.

The agency has just one designated investigator and it takes time to fairly respond to some complex complaints, Jacobson said.

She said the governor's plan could mean people with complaints have to wage an expensive legal battle in the future.

Under Murkowski's proposal, someone with an election or lobbying complaint would have to ask the attorney general to pursue a civil lawsuit or file their own lawsuit.

Renkes said his department would investigate any violation of state statute "just like we would with any other violation." And requiring people to pursue their own legal battles would weed out frivolous complaints, he said.

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