Ethics bill passes with 'bad seed'

Posted: Monday, April 07, 2008

A bill to modify the state's ethics laws passed the Alaska House Saturday despite containing what its sponsor called "a bad seed in an otherwise good bill."

Among other provisions, the bill by Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, would expand a prohibition on lawmakers accepting or soliciting campaign donations in Juneau, the capital city, to include any municipality where a session is held in the 90 days before an election.

But the House Finance Committee added an exemption for lawmakers who have filed to run in a municipality where a special legislative session is being held.

The exemption would pertain only to Juneau lawmakers in the next election - a special session in the capital city is scheduled for later this summer. But it could affect other lawmakers if future special sessions are held elsewhere within 90 days of an election.

A special session on senior benefits was held in Anchorage last summer.

House Finance Committee co-Chairman Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said the issue only cropped up in recent years when the Legislature started having a lot of special sessions.

Lynn said the exemption would open up a "Grand Canyon of loopholes," and he tried to remove it.

But Meyer said he couldn't support Lynn's amendment to remove the exemption unless the prohibition on campaign donations applied to an incumbent's opponents as well.

The amendment, sponsored by Lynn and Juneau Democrats Andrea Doll and Beth Kerttula, failed by a vote of 14-25, and the bill containing the exemption then passed 39-0.

The bill also would loosen the laws concerning gifts, allowing a legislator or staff member to accept a gift worth $250 or more from a lobbyist, if the lobbyist is an immediate family member.

It also establishes fines for "willful" late disclosure filings and allows the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics to publish official summaries of decisions and advisory opinions on an annual basis.

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