Legislature discusses ethics bills

Posted: Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A bill looking to give state watchdogs more time to investigate complaints against elected officials has come down to one burning issue: how much time.

The debate started Monday in the House Finance Committee and is likely to continue today with just 13 days remaining in this legislative session.

Two Anchorage Republican representatives boiled the argument down to the difference of a single year.

Bob Lynn, the bill sponsor is pushing for five years, but his aide Mike Sica told the committee he would be willing to settle for four. Lynn was sick and not present.

Lynn's argument is that five years would encompass the longest possible full term plus the campaign season leading up to it.

Kevin Meyer, the committee co-chairman, introduced an amendment for four years, a proposal that will get further discussion.

"It's the length of your Senate term or your two House terms; that's why four years," Meyer said. "It's not making it more onerous than even the IRS does on our taxes."

Democratic Rep. Les Gara, also of Anchorage, however, is pushing for five years, saying that reflects the criminal statutes.

Gara and fellow Anchorage Democrat Harry Crawford first raised the issue last fall when testimony in a federal trial revealed former oil field service executives paid for some candidates' political polls.

"I just feel the statute of limitations should be longer so people aren't shielded from their conduct," Gara told the committee.

Gara and Crawford had insisted that the Alaska Public Offices Commission should pursue charges. But APOC said it was bound by a one-year statute of limitations. However, the commission has ordered an investigation into other cases.

The commission has said it's worth it to learn who else may have received this kind of help from VECO, even while bound by the current laws. Additionally, there could be value in preventing any infractions from happening again, one investigator said. The results haven't been announced.

Lawmakers are trying to make the term consistent with another provision calling for elected officials and those who lost races to keep campaign receipts for six years. Meyer is calling for four as well.

"It makes no difference to me whether this is one, two, four, five 10, 20, 25 years or the rest of your life," said Anchorage Republican Mike Hawker. "Just make it consistent throughout."

If APOC had more than one year, it could have pursued an investigation into Jim Clark, the chief of staff to former Gov. Frank Murkowski. Federal prosecutors did get to Clark, however.

Clark pleaded guilty to hiding from state election regulators more than $68,000 in polls and consultants' fees he secured from the oil field services company VECO Corp. for Murkowski's failed gubernatorial re-election bid two years ago.

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