Alaska editorial: New disclosure law for politicians has gone too far

Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2008

The following editorial first appeared in the Peninsula Clarion

Where's the line? Where do we draw the line? The 12-page financial disclosure form the Alaska Public Offices Commission now requires has many shaking their heads, and so are we - especially with legislation that will put the information on the state's Web site.

How far should an elected official or candidate have to go to get into public office?

According to APOC, those who are required to fill out the form include all members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, local government - meaning borough and city mayors and "top local officials" - plus candidates for elective offices.

What they have to fill out includes any sources of income more than $1,000.

That means spouses or "spousal equivalents" are included.

Kenai Mayor Pat Porter asked why she should be required to report the amount of her husband's Social Security check.

"What the state of Alaska is asking is a true invasion of privacy," Porter said during a recent city council meeting. "Is it anyone's business what the amount of my husband's Social Security check is?"

Public officials must report gross earnings and a complete description of what their jobs entail; self-employment income exceeding $1,000; rental income; dividends and interest; gifts valued at more than $250; for-profit and nonprofit business interests; real estate and real estate sold during the previous year; beneficial interests in trusts and retirement accounts; loans, loan guarantees and debts; and leases.

Each year the information must be reported for the office holder, his or her spouse and for dependent children living at home.

That can add up to a pretty lengthy list for some.

We understand the reasoning behind this change, it's to make sure candidates don't try to hide any possible conflicts of interest. With all the corruption and ethics violations taking place of late, the intent is to protect our city, borough and state from any further legal issues.

But at what point does legislation hinder the problems instead of help them?

Are we alienating those who wish to do public service for the good of the people or are we turning them away by invading their privacy?

Will these rules discourage qualified people from running for office? It's already difficult to fill empty seats.

According to the regulations, "top local officials" include councils, planning and zoning commissions, school boards in home-rule municipalities and elected members of public utility boards.

APOC tells us this financial disclosure is designed to keep our government open and accountable, two buzzwords that have been tossed about quite a bit of late. However, putting everything on the Internet is, perhaps, a little too open.

There is a way around this, though. More than 200 of the state's communities, including Homer, Kodiak and Palmer, have opted to be exempt from the ruling. The city of Kenai intends to do the same, but that decision will rest in the hands of its residents.

In order to be exempt, the question must go before voters at a regular or special election. Kenai city officials are planning to put it on the October ballot.

There's a reason so many communities have said no to this legislation, and why many more are questioning its logic: It just doesn't make sense.

There's definitely a need to monitor our government and those who take part in it, but delving into their checkbooks isn't necessary to know that those representing us are worthy of our votes.

There's a fine line between good and questionable decisions, but this legislation has caused that line to bow. Do legislators need to give ruling a second look? We think so - and so do more than 200 Alaska communities.

What do you think?

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